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Lesson 4: “But I Love Him!” – God’s Will for Whom You Marry (Malachi 2:10-12)

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P. T. Barnum made a fortune based on his philosophy, “There is a sucker born every minute.” Con artists have always thrived on schemes to bilk unsuspecting people out of their money. Sometimes they have to invent new tricks and find new people, but they manage to do a thriving business.

Our enemy, Satan, has a con game that he has used for centuries. He never changes it, but it still works like a charm. He uses it to wreak havoc among God’s people and to thwart God’s work. The scheme is so simple that you would think that even the most naïve of God’s people would have caught on by now, but they haven’t. What is Satan’s ingenious con game? To get God’s people to marry unbelievers.

I have seen spiritually vibrant young people throw their lives away by marrying unbelievers. Usually, it seems to be Christian young women who marry unbelieving men, although occasionally the pattern is reversed. When you ask why they are doing this, you hear rationalizations, such as:

“I love him, and love is what matters the most.”

“He promises to go to church with me and the children.”

“If I break up with him, he won’t have anyone to lead him to Christ. Besides, I’m sure that he’s going to become a Christian.”

“I’ve prayed about it and feel a peace that this is God’s will.”

I want you to hear me loud and clear: It is never God’s will for a Christian to marry a non-Christian! Period!! No exceptions!! You should no more pray about marrying a non-Christian than you should pray about whether it is God’s will for you to commit adultery or murder your neighbor. God has made it abundantly plain that it is sin for His children to marry an unbeliever. It is never God’s will for you to sin!

Someone may be thinking, “But I know of cases where a believer married an unbeliever and everything has turned out fine. The unbeliever came to faith in Christ and today they have a fine Christian family.” Yes, God is often gracious in using even our sins for good when we repent. I’ve heard of people who tried to commit suicide, but God spared their lives and saved them. But that should not encourage us to sin that grace may abound!

For a believer to marry an unbeliever is to sin grievously against God and God’s people.

That is the message of Malachi 2:10-12. As we saw last week, the priests had failed to live and teach God’s truth, causing many to stumble. From the contemporaneous books of Ezra (9, 10) and Nehemiah (13:23-29) we learn that one of the ways the priests had set a bad example and thus had led the people astray was in this sin of marrying foreign women who did not follow the Lord. In fact, they were even divorcing their Jewish wives to marry these foreign women (Mal. 2:13-16). Through the prophet, the Lord warns His people against the sins of marrying unbelievers and divorce.

1. For a believer to marry an unbeliever is to sin grievously against God.

Our text unfolds four aspects of this sin:

A. Marrying an unbeliever is a grievous sin against the God who made us His people.

“Father” may refer to Abraham (Calvin), but probably it refers to God, who is the Father of the Jewish nation as His chosen people (1:6). He created and formed the nation (Isa. 43:1), not only in the sense that He created all people, but also in the sense that Israel was to be a special people for His possession. He entered into a covenant with the fathers of the nation, singling them out from all others on earth. As their all-wise heavenly Father, God has the right to tell His people whom they can and cannot marry.

If you know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, you are not your own. You have been bought with the blood of Christ. You are only free to marry as the Lord directs in His Word. As I’ll show in a moment, He does not leave room for doubt. His will is always that you marry a believer, not an unbeliever.

B. Marrying an unbeliever is a grievous sin against the God who wants His people to be holy (separate) unto Him.

God is holy, meaning that He is totally separate from sin. He calls His people to be holy also (Lev. 19:2; 1 Pet. 1:16; plus many others). Here the Lord charges Judah with profaning the covenant (2:10) and the sanctuary (2:11), literally, “the holy thing.” This probably refers to the people themselves. God had said that He would dwell among them and they would be His people (Lev. 26:11-12). By marrying those who worshiped foreign gods, the Jews had defiled themselves as God’s dwelling place.

You may think that marrying an unbeliever is unwise, or perhaps a minor sin. But God calls it an abomination (2:11). That Hebrew word is used elsewhere to refer to idolatry, witchcraft, sacrificing children to idols, and to homosexuality (Deut. 13:14; 18:9-12; Lev. 18:22). It is not a gray area!

To underscore how grievous this sin is to the Lord, I want to take you on a quick tour through the biblical witness against it. The principle runs throughout the Bible: God wants His people to be separate from unbelievers in life’s important relationships. Throughout history Satan has used marriage to unbelievers to turn the Lord’s people from devotion to Him.

In Genesis 6, however you interpret “sons of God,” the point is the same. Satan used wrongful marriage to corrupt the human race, leading to the judgment of the flood. In Genesis 24:1-4, Abraham made his servant swear by the Lord that he would not take a wife for Isaac from the Canaanites. Two generations later, the godless Esau married two unbelieving wives. It is emphasized repeatedly (Gen. 26:34-35; 27:46; 28:8) that these women brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah. Later (Gen. 34) Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, got involved with a Canaanite man. His people invited Jacob’s sons to intermarry with them and live among them (Gen. 34:9). Later, Jacob’s son, Judah, married a Canaanite woman and began to live like a Canaanite (Gen. 38).

If Israel had continued to intermarry with the Canaanites, it would have sabotaged God’s plan to make a great nation out of Abraham’s descendants and to bless all nations through them. So God sovereignly had Joseph sold into slavery in Egypt, resulting in the whole family of Jacob moving there, where they eventually became slaves for 400 years. This drastic treatment solidified the people as a separate nation and prevented them from intermarriage with the heathen.

Later, through Moses, God warned the people not to intermarry with the people of the land (Exod. 34:12-16; Deut. 7:1-5). One of the most formidable enemies that Moses had to face was Balaam, who counseled Balak, king of Moab, against Israel. God prevented Balaam from cursing Israel. But Balaam counseled Balak with an insidious plan: Corrupt the people whom you cannot curse. Get them to marry your Moabite women. The plan inflicted much damage, until Phinehas took bold action to stop the plague on Israel (Num. 25:1-9).

Throughout Israel’s history, marriage to heathen women created problems. Samson’s ministry was nullified through his involvement with Philistine women (Judges 16:4-22). Solomons idolatrous foreign wives turned his heart away from the Lord (1 Kings 11:1-8). The wicked Jezebel, a foreign idolater, established Baal worship during the reign of her weak Jewish husband, Ahab (1 Kings 16:29-22:40).

Jehoshaphat, who was otherwise a godly king, nearly ruined the nation by joining his son in marriage to Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel (1 Chron. 18:1). The terrible effects of this sin did not come to the surface during Jehoshaphat’s lifetime. His son, Jehoram, who married Athaliah, slaughtered all of his brothers and turned the nation to idolatry. God struck him with disease and he died after eight years in office. His son Ahaziah became king and lasted one year before being murdered.

Then the wicked Athaliah made her move. She slaughtered all her own grandsons (except one, who was hidden) and ruled in wickedness for six years. The Davidic line, from which Christ would be born, came within a hair’s breadth, humanly speaking, of being annihilated because of Jehoshaphat’s sin of marrying his son to an unbelieving woman (1 Chron. 17:1-23:15)!

After the captivity, when Ezra heard that some of the returned remnant had married women of the land, he tore his garment, pulled some of the hair from his head and beard, and sat down appalled. This was followed by a time of national mourning and repentance (Ezra 9 & 10). Just a few years later, Nehemiah discovered that some Jews had married Canaanite women. He contended with them, pronounced a curse on them, struck some of them, and pulled out their hair, calling their actions “a great evil” (Neh. 13:23-29)!  One of the priests had married the daughter of Sanballat, one of Nehemiah’s chief enemies in the project of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Malachi’s ministry fits into Nehemiah’s time or shortly after.

The New Testament is equally clear: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor. 6:14-16a).

When Paul gave instructions for those in Corinth who were married to unbelievers (1 Cor. 7:12-16), he was not endorsing entering such a marriage. Rather, he was giving counsel to those who had become believers after marriage, but whose spouses had not. In 1 Corinthians 7:39 the apostle gives a clear word concerning entering a new marriage: “A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (emphasis mine).

My point is, there is a principle that runs throughout the Bible: God wants His people to be set apart unto Him. This especially applies to the major life decision of whom you marry. It never is His will for His people to join in marriage to unbelievers.

Thus for a believer to marry an unbeliever is to sin grievously against the God who made His people, who calls them to be holy.

C. Marrying an unbeliever is a grievous sin against the God who loves His people.

“Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord which He loves” (2:11). Remember the theme of Malachi, “I have loved you,” says the Lord (1:2). It is because of His love that God sets forth such strong standards of holiness for His people. Sin always causes damage. Holiness brings great joy.

We often forget that God’s motive behind all of His actions toward us is, He loves us! We’re like rebellious children, who don’t want to eat nutritious food or brush our teeth. So we run away from home, where we can eat all the junk food we want and never brush our teeth. After the first few days of this “freedom,” we defiantly say, “See, I’m still healthy, my teeth haven’t rotted and fallen out like my mother said, and I’m having a great time! My mother was wrong!” Just wait!

Satan always tempts you with the promise of immediate gratification and the lie that God really doesn’t love you or He wouldn’t keep you from all this pleasure. Here’s how this works: You know that God doesn’t want you to marry an unbeliever, but then the most adorable hunk asks you out. You hesitate, but then rationalize, “What can one date hurt?” Besides, your phone hasn’t been ringing with Christian guys asking you out. So you say yes, you’ll go out to dinner. You plan to witness to him, but the opportunity just doesn’t come up.

You’re pleasantly surprised that he isn’t a rude, crude pagan, as you’d been led to think all unbelievers would be. He’s a decent, caring, sensible young man. So you go out again and again. Then, there’s a polite goodnight kiss at the door. Your feelings for him are growing stronger. The kisses become more passionate, and they feel good. You feel loved and special. Soon, your physical involvement has gone too far and your conscience bothers you. But you brush it aside, thinking, “He’s going to become a Christian and we’ll get married. It will all work out.”

At the start of this subtle drift away from God was your rejection of God’s love, as expressed in His commandment for your holiness. As a Christian, you need to make an up-front surrender of your life to God, trusting that He loves you and knows what is best for you. That includes His commandment for you not to marry an unbeliever. If you don’t want to go to the altar with an unbeliever, don’t accept that first date. As Garrison Keillor has the pastor in Lake Wobegon say to young couples, “If you don’t want to go to Minneapolis, don’t get on the train!”

D. Marrying an unbeliever is a grievous sin against the God who disciplines His people.

God’s love is not incompatible with His discipline. In fact, it stems from it: “Whom the Lord loves, He disciplines” (Heb. 12:6). If I love my child, when he does wrong I will correct him strongly enough to deter him from taking that course of action again.

In verse 12, there is a difficult phrase, translated, “everyone who awakes and answers” (NASB), “being awake and aware” (New KJV), or “whoever he is” (NIV). It is probably a Hebrew idiom meaning “everyone.” So the verse means, “Whoever sins by marrying an unbeliever, whether he does it defiantly or ignorantly, may he and his posterity be cut off from the covenant people of God.” God often lets us experience the natural consequences of our sins. The man who marries outside the faith is, in effect, thumbing his nose at God and God’s covenant people. So, God declares that he and his descendants will be cut off from God’s covenant people.

It’s the principle of sowing and reaping. If you sow corn, you don’t reap peaches. If you marry an unbeliever, generally, you won’t have children who are committed to the Lord. They will see your half-hearted commitment, seen in your disobedience in marrying an unbeliever. They will also see the pleasure-oriented, materialistic lifestyle of the unbelieving parent. They will conclude, “Why commit myself fully to the Lord?”

Thank God, there are exceptions, especially when the believing parent repents. But no one should disobey God and hope for their case to be the exception! If the believing partner thinks that he (or she) can disobey God and then “bring his offering” to take care of things, Malachi says, “Think twice!” Such offerings will be of no value. God looks for obedience, not sacrifice. Your children will suffer for your disobedience.

This leads to the other part of Malachi’s message. For a believer to marry an unbeliever is not only to sin against God. Also,

2. For a believer to marry an unbeliever is to sin grievously against God’s people.

We never sin in private. Our actions are interwoven with the fabric of society. If we defile our part of the fabric, the whole fabric is affected. Malachi states that God’s people are one (2:10). To sin against God by marrying an unbeliever is to sin against our brothers and sisters in God’s family. It’s as if we’re all in the same boat and you think that you have a right to bore a hole in your part of the boat. “What’s it matter to you how I live in my part of the boat?” you ask. It matters a great deal, of course! There are three ways that you hurt other believers if you marry an unbeliever:

A. If you marry an unbeliever, you cheapen God’s covenant in the eyes of His people.

Malachi asks, “Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers?” (2:10). The Hebrew word “treachery” is related to their word for “garment” or covering. The idea is that treachery involves deceit or cover-up. To marry foreign women covered up Israel’s covenant relationship with God. When one Jew saw his neighbor act as if there were no such relationship, he would be tempted to act in a similar manner.

That’s why I maintain that for a believer to marry an unbeliever should be a church discipline matter. If a believer marries an unbeliever and there are no consequences of being put out of the fellowship, then lonely believers in the church will think, “She seems to be happy, but I’m still lonely. No Christian guys are available. Maybe I’ll date some non-Christians like she did.” “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6).

B. If you marry an unbeliever, you link the people of God by covenant to idolaters.

“Judah … has married the daughter of a foreign god” (2:11). The Jews had a saying, “He that marries a heathen woman is as if he made himself son-in-law to an idol” (cited by E. B. Pusey, The Minor Prophets [Baker], p. 482, in Barnes Notes). You may be thinking, “I would never marry a pagan idolater. Even though he isn’t especially religious, my fiancé is a decent man. He doesn’t set up statutes and bow down before them!”

But if he doesn’t follow the Lord Jesus Christ, then he follows other gods. It may be the god of self or money or status. But he is not following the living and true God. By joining yourself to him in marriage, you link God’s people by marriage covenant to an idolater, no matter how nice a guy he may be.

C. If you marry an unbeliever, you cheapen the meaning of commitment to the living God.

This is the implication of verse 12. These people thought that they could disobey God on this most important matter and then cover it up with a few sacrifices and go merrily on their way. But Proverbs 15:8 says, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord.” You cannot rebel against God in an area as important as this and then go on about life among God’s people as if nothing happened, expecting God to ignore it.

What does commitment to God mean if it does not affect life’s most significant human relationship? Apart from your relationship to Jesus Christ, nothing else matters as much as your choice of a marriage partner. If you go to church and sing, “Oh, how I love Jesus,” but go out the door and marry an unbeliever, it tells others that commitment to Christ doesn’t make a bit of difference as to how you live. You’ve greatly damaged your witness for Christ to your family and friends.

Conclusion

If you, as a Christian, have already married an unbeliever, then you need to sincerely repent before the Lord, grieving over the fact that you sinned against Him and His people. The true sacrifice to God is a broken and contrite heart (Ps. 51:17). Then you should follow the guidelines of 1 Corinthians 7:12-16. Paul instructs believers in mixed marriages not to initiate divorce. There is the possibility that your mate and children will come to faith in Christ through your presence. You must seek to demonstrate Christ in the home by your life, not by your sermons (see 1 Pet. 3:1-6)! You will probably reap some of the seed that you’ve sown by marrying outside of the will of God. When those seeds sprout, you need to submit to the Lord’s discipline, being careful to acknowledge that His ways are right.

If you are currently involved in a romantic relationship with an unbeliever, break it off immediately, before you get entangled further! You have stepped into spiritual quicksand. Don’t linger and think about how good the warm mud feels between your toes! Marriage is difficult enough when both partners are committed to Christ and God’s Word. You are only heading for a life of pain if you marry an unbeliever who is living for self. You may say, “But if I break it off, how will he hear about Christ?” Line up a Christian to share the gospel with him, but break off your relationship!

If you know a Christian who is dating an unbeliever, share this message with her or him. If you care about this person, about the Lord, and about His people, you can’t remain silent! Parents, impress on your children the importance of marrying only a person who loves and follows Jesus Christ. Pray for your children’s future mates, that they would be godly young people. Don’t fall for Satan’s age-old con game. Too much is at stake!

Discussion Questions

  1. Why would most Christians classify adultery as a “bad” sin, but shrug their shoulders at marrying an unbeliever?
  2. Should Christian parents participate in the wedding ceremony if their Christian child marries an unbeliever? Why/why not?
  3. Should believers attend the wedding of another believer who is marrying an unbeliever? How does 1 Cor. 5:9-13 apply?
  4. Should a Christian wife with an unbelieving husband obey his wishes that she not attend church? Why/why not?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2003, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Cultural Issues, Discipleship, Ecclesiology (The Church), Hamartiology (Sin), Marriage, Singleness, Spiritual Life, Temptation

Lesson 5: How to Avoid Divorce, Part 1 (Malachi 2:13-16)

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Over the past 30 years America has experienced an epidemic of divorce. Probably every person here has a family member or close friend who has gone through divorce. Many of you grew up in Christian homes where your parents split up. In fact, many of you have been divorced. It used to be that evangelical Christians, while not exempt, at least had a better track record than the general public. But that no longer seems to be the case.

Even some well-known pastors and Christian leaders have gone through divorces. A 1981 survey showed that ministers ranked third among the professions in the number of divorces granted each year, behind medical doctors and police (Leadership [Fall, 1981], p. 119). I have seen many pastors go through divorce.

I have no desire to heap guilt or condemnation on those who have already been traumatized by divorce. If you sinned in your marriage (inevitably both sides sin in divorce situations), I trust that you have confessed your sin to the Lord and sought the forgiveness of those you sinned against. We cannot undo the past. But we can learn from our mistakes and grow as we walk in daily repentance. So I don’t want to add to anyone’s pain. But I do want to call us back to God’s standard of lifelong marriage and give some biblical principles that can help all of us avoid divorce.

This problem affected both the priests and the people in Malachi’s day. In our text, the prophet unfolds God’s perspective on marriage and divorce and gives us some principles for cultivating our marriage relationships so that we can not merely avoid divorce, but also have satisfying marriages that glorify God.

It is significant that our text addresses men. In fact, most biblical texts on marriage and family are addressed to men, not to the women. The Bible allows no refuge for passive men who do not take an active role in their marriages and in rearing children. Since our text addresses the men, so will I. It says:

To avoid divorce, develop God’s perspective on marriage and cultivate your relationship with your wife.

Due to time constraints, we must save the second half of that statement for next week. This week, we will focus on God’s perspective, which we must develop and maintain in our marriages.

To avoid divorce, develop God’s perspective on marriage.

Divorce, like all sins, always starts in the mind. Today, our society is far more permissive towards divorce than it was 50 years ago, and this has flooded into the church. When Adlai Stevenson ran against Dwight Eisenhower for president in 1956, it was a big deal that Stevenson had been divorced. But when Ronald Reagan ran against Jimmy Carter in 1980, Reagan’s divorce was hardly mentioned. It was Reagan who as governor of California signed the nation’s first no-fault divorce law in 1969. Now all 50 states have such laws. It is now easier to get out of a marriage than it is to get out of a car-lease contract! So we need God’s perspective.

1. To avoid divorce, view marriage problems as God views them.

If you get married, you will have marriage problems. If you say, “I’m married, but I don’t have any problems,” you really have problems, because you’re out of touch with reality! Any time two sinners with different backgrounds and ways of thinking, come together in a relationship as close as marriage, you’ve got problems! There are ungodly and godly ways of dealing with those problems. Our text reveals two ways that God views our marriage problems:

A. Marriage problems stand between the believer and God.

These guys were trading in their older Jewish wives for newer Canaanite models. Then they stopped by the temple to do their religious thing. For some strange reason, their crops were failing. So they were covering the altar of the Lord with tears, weeping, and groaning, because the Lord did not regard their offerings (2:13). But they didn’t make the connection! They ask, “Why doesn’t God notice all the nice offerings that we bring to Him?”

This sounds incredible, but I find that guys still do the same thing. They go to church and look very spiritual. If someone asks how they’re doing with the Lord, they say, “Just great, thanks!” But at home, things aren’t so great. They’re at odds with their wives. They aren’t leading their families in the things of God. If you press them, they will blame their wives for the tensions in the home. Meanwhile, things aren’t going so well at work. But they don’t make the connection. They cry out, “Lord, why aren’t You blessing my career?” He says, “I’ll give you a hint: How is your relationship with your wife?”

Jesus said, “If you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matt. 5:23-24). Peter applies this principle to marriage when he says [1 Pet. 3:7, New Living Translation], “You husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat her with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. If you don’t treat her as you should, your prayers will not be heard.”

So if your prayers are not being answered, both Peter and Malachi say, “How are you doing with your wife?” If you say, “Things are fine between me and God, but my wife is a problem,” God says, “Everything is not fine between you and Me! Get things right with your wife!”

B. Marriage problems stem from the hardness and deceitfulness of the human heart.

Twice the Lord warns these men, “Take heed then to your spirit and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth” (2:15, 16). Divorce (and the marriage problems that lead to it) is a problem of the spirit, or heart. When the Pharisees (who also took a loose view of divorce) asked Jesus why Moses allowed divorce, He replied, “Because of the hardness of your heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way” (Matt. 19:8). Divorce is an indicator that at least one person, and almost always two, has a hard heart.

There is no contradiction between Moses’ permission of divorce (Deut. 24:1-4) and God’s hatred of it (Mal. 2:16). I understand the Bible to allow (not mandate) divorce in cases of unrepentant sexual immorality (Matt. 5:32; 19:9; Deut. 24:1; Jer. 3:6-10); and when an unbeliever deserts a believer (1 Cor. 7:10-16). But God still hates it. Divorce does not glorify Him. People always get hurt, especially the children. Even in cases of sexual infidelity, I believe that God is most glorified when there is genuine repentance and forgiveness, not when there is divorce.

We all need to pay attention to God’s repeated warning here, “Take heed to your spirit.” Just as calluses form naturally on my skin at points of friction, so they form on my spirit at points of friction. If there is friction in my marriage, I am in danger of becoming insensitive towards my wife and towards my own sin. If I am blaming my wife or blaming God for things that are not going well in my life, I am exhibiting signs of a hard heart or spirit. If you want an exercise in self-examination, I commend to you Stuart Scott’s booklet, From Pride to Humility (excerpted from his book, The Exemplary Husband [Focus Publishing]). He shows many specific ways that our pride blinds us to reality.

Our hearts are not only prone to hardness, but also to deceitfulness. “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). We all tend to gloss over or excuse our own sin, and then blame others. These men, who were callously dumping their wives, were saying, “How should I know why God isn’t regarding my offerings?” Their sin was deceiving them from perceiving reality.

Proverbs 19:3 says [New Living Translation], “People ruin their lives by their own foolishness and then are angry at the Lord.” These men were abandoning their wives for younger, more attractive models, but were upset with God because their crops were failing! They were probably bitter at their wives, blaming them for being nags or for having a bad attitude. As marriage problems mount, it’s tempting to walk away from the problems and start over with a “clean slate.” Along comes someone new and exciting, who is so understanding of the ordeal that you’ve gone through with your insensitive mate. So you trade in the older model with all the problems for a newer model that doesn’t seem to rattle quite so much. What a relief! What a sense of “peace”! But this is not God’s way! Take heed to your spirit!

So we need to develop God’s perspective on marriage problems. They stand between us and God and they stem from the hardness and deceitfulness of our hearts. But we also need God’s perspective in another area:

2. To avoid divorce, view the marriage covenant as God views it.

Our self-centered, pleasure-oriented society has done away with the idea of a lifelong covenant as the basis of marriage, but we need to recover this truth (2:14):

A. Marriage is a covenant.

A covenant is a formal legal agreement or contract entered into in the presence of witnesses, which has certain binding obligations. Marriage, in God’s design, is based on a covenant, not on feelings of romantic love. The excuse, which I’ve often heard, “I don’t love her [or him] anymore” is not valid. God’s reply is, “Learn to love each other as I commanded you.”

In biblical times, most marriages were arranged by the parents, not by those getting married. That did not mean that the couple had nothing to say about it. But it does mean that two people who may not have feelings of romantic love can develop those feelings in the context of a lifelong marriage covenant. The Bible does not say, “Marry your lover.” It does say, “Love the one you’re married to” (Eph. 5:25). Romantic love is built and sustained on the foundation of the commitment of the covenant. That commitment is the glue that holds the marriage together during the inevitable times of stress.

B. Marriage is a serious covenant.

God is the witness of the marriage covenant (2:14). Because God takes that covenant seriously and views it as lifelong, it must be entered into prayerfully and with much godly counsel. If we harbor the thought, “If it doesn’t work out, we will get a divorce,” we do not have God’s perspective!

He says, “I hate divorce” (2:16). He adds that divorce covers a man’s garment with violence or wrong. This phrase stems from a Hebrew custom. When we get engaged, we usually give an engagement ring, but the Hebrews had a different custom. A man would take his robe or outer garment and drape it around his prospective bride as a symbol of the protection and care that he was offering to her as her husband (Ruth 3:9; Ezek. 16:8; Deut. 22:30). Thus “garment” is used as a figure of speech for marriage. To cover his garment with violence means that a man is treating cruelly the woman whom he pledged to protect. God calls it treachery and says that He hates it.

The danger in our day of easy, quick, and common divorce is that we will shrug off or even call good what God hates. In a “Dear Abby” column (9/30/02), a woman wrote,

I am a 39-year-old married woman who has lost all hope. My convictions and emotions are in severe conflict. I’m a deeply devout person, which made the divorce from my first husband extremely traumatic. When I remarried, I made a religious commitment that I would make my second marriage work, and under no circumstances would I ever leave my new husband.

Because of that commitment, I feel I must honor my pledge —even though there is no love, no intimacy and no marriage anymore. My husband has refused me children and provides me nothing but cold, unwanted solitude in our home.

She goes on to say how severely depressed and trapped she feels, since she has no way out. She concludes, “Abby, all I want is to get out of this marriage so I can start over—but my oath is holding me hostage. Please help.”

Abby tells her to speak to her spiritual advisor to relieve her of her “well-intentioned but unrealistic oath.” Abby says, “Ask yourself if a loving God would want you to remain in a loveless marriage that is a marriage in name only.”

Abby subsequently (11/12/02) printed letters from two ordained ministers (one male, one female) assuring this woman that God is love and does not want anyone to live in such a situation. She must forgive herself and love herself. In fact, by staying with her husband, she was doing him a grave disservice, because she is unable to love him. Abby thanks both ministers, agreeing that “we cannot love another person until we first learn to love ourselves.”

I read of a Congressional hearing on the high divorce rate where an “expert” (i.e., psychologist) stated that our high divorce rate actually shows how highly Americans value family life, because it shows that we are unwilling to accept anything less than the best (cited by Jerry Regier, Pastoral Renewal [6/88], p. 13). Go figure!

We could laugh at these examples of convoluted, worldly wisdom, except that they’ve infiltrated the church. I’ve read of well-known Christians who have left their mates with the excuse that God wants them to be happy after all the years of misery they’ve endured in their sour marriages. A conservative Christian wrote,

I hope my wife will never divorce me, because I love her with all my heart. But if one day she feels I am minimizing her or making her feel inferior or in any way standing in the light that she needs to become a person God meant her to be, I hope she’ll be free to throw me out even if she’s one hundred. There is something more important than our staying married, and it has to do with integrity, personhood, and purpose (cited by Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster [Crossway], pp. 132-133).

Another Christian writer argues that “there can be as much sin involved in trying to perpetuate a dead or meaningless relationship as in accepting the brokenness, offering it to God, and going on from there.” Os Guinness wryly comments, “Disobeying Christ out of faithfulness to Christ! The irony is exquisite!” (ibid. p. 133).

So we must view marriage as a serious covenant before God, because He hates divorce. Also,

C. Marriage is a purposeful covenant.

Our text reveals three of God’s purposes for marriage:

1) Marriage is intended to provide companionship between a husband and wife.

“She is your companion…” (2:14). I will deal with this more next week, but for now note that when God created Adam, he was in a perfect environment, in perfect fellowship with God. What more could he want? But God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18), and He created Eve for Adam.

When I was single, I would sometimes hear some super-spiritual advice to the effect that I just needed to be content with being single. If I couldn’t find contentment, something must be wrong with my relationship with God. But I used to go back to Genesis 2 and base my argument in prayer on God’s word, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” While some are gifted to be single (1 Cor. 7:7), there is nothing unspiritual about desiring a lifelong companion. God created us with that desire!

2) Marriage is intended to be a picture of the believer’s relationship with God.

Verse 16 is the only time in Malachi that God is called “the God of Israel.” The reason that designation appears here in the context of God saying that He hates divorce, is that divorce smudges the picture of God’s covenant love for His wife, Israel (see Isa. 54:5-8). In New Testament terms, the church is the bride of Christ, and husbands are exhorted to love their wives just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Eph. 5:25-33). Christian marriage should reflect the eternal covenant love of Jesus Christ for His chosen bride, the church. The world should be able to look at a Christian husband’s faithful love for his wife and get a glimpse of how God loves those who are in a covenant relationship with Him. Divorce shatters our witness to a world that desperately needs to know of God’s great love.

3) Marriage is intended to reproduce godly offspring.

Commentators acknowledge that verse 15 is the most difficult verse in Malachi to translate. There are several suggested variations. Rather than confuse you with all of the views, I’ll just give you the view that I consider the best. The text should read, “Did He [God] not make [them] one [referring to God’s making Adam and Eve one flesh in marriage] although He had the remnant of the Spirit?” In other words, God had enough creative power to make many wives for Adam if He had thought that best. But He only created one wife and made the two into one flesh in marriage. The text continues, “Why one? He sought a godly offspring.”

So in arguing against divorce (and polygamy), Malachi says, “God didn’t make multiple wives for Adam, although He could have done so. He gave Adam one wife, in part, because it is more difficult to raise godly offspring in a multiple marriage situation.” God’s design for the family always has been one man and one woman who covenant together for life, because that is the best situation for rearing children who follow the Lord.

I admire and respect single parents who work hard to provide for their children. The normal day for many single mothers is enough to make most of us want to go take a nap! As a church, we should help single moms by providing male role models for boys and girls who do not have a father in the home. Yet at the same time I must say that God’s best is for children to be raised in a home where the father and mother provide the security of a committed covenant relationship, demonstrating the love of Christ toward one another.

Conclusion

In 1990, Robertson McQuilkin, the president of Columbia Bible College and Seminary, surprised many in the Christian world when he resigned his position in order to care for his wife, Muriel, who had Alzheimer’s disease. He was in his early sixties and could have served much longer. His wife could no longer communicate in sentences, and even her phrases were often nonsensical. She needed around the clock care. Since she would only grow worse, trusted, lifelong, godly friends urged McQuilkin to put her in an institution and continue his ministry. He wrote of his struggle, but then said,

When the time came, the decision was firm. It took no great calculation. It was a matter of integrity. Had I not promised, 42 years before, “in sickness and in health … till death do us part”?

This was no grim duty to which I was stoically resigned, however. It was only fair. She had, after all, cared for me for almost four decades with marvelous devotion; now it was my turn. And such a partner she was! If I took care of her for 40 years, I would never be out of her debt.

McQuilkin was startled by the public response to his resignation. He heard of husbands and wives renewing their marriage vows, of pastors telling the story to their congregations. It was a mystery to him why it attracted such attention, until an oncologist friend, who lives constantly with dying people, told him, “Almost all women stand by their men; very few men stand by their women.” Robertson concludes,

It is all more than keeping promises and being fair, however. As I watch her brave descent into oblivion, Muriel is the joy of my life. Daily I discern new manifestations of the kind of person she is, the wife I always loved. I also see fresh manifestations of God’s love—the God I long to love more fully (Christianity Today [10/8/90], p. 40).

If the word “divorce” pops into your mind, think about divorcing our godless culture. To avoid divorce in your marriage, develop God’s covenant perspective!

Discussion Questions

  1. How can we uphold God’s standard of lifelong covenant marriage and yet minister sensitively to divorced people?
  2. Are there ever situations where two Christians are simply too incompatible to stay together in marriage? Explain.
  3. How far can we push Christian marriage standards (i.e., tougher divorce laws) in a pagan culture?
  4. What does a husband do when his wife is really a difficult person to get along with? How does confrontation fit with love?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2003, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Divorce, Love, Marriage, Men's Articles

Lesson 6: How to Avoid Divorce, Part 2 (Malachi 2:13-16)

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As a woman was getting her hair fixed, she listened to the conversation between her beautician and the 19-year-old beautician in the next booth. The younger woman was trying to decide if she should marry her boyfriend, who was contemplating getting a tattoo with her name. The older beautician cautioned her by saying, “Marriage is one thing, but a tattoo is permanent!” (Reader’s Digest [4/99], p. 129.)

There’s the modern mindset for you—we see tattoos as more permanent than marriage! As I said last week, our culture has gone through a major shift over the past 30 years, where divorce is now fairly commonplace, even in Christian circles. If we want our marriages to last for life and be glorifying to Him, as God’s Word commands, then we need to develop God’s perspective on marriage, that He hates divorce and that marriage is a lifelong covenant before Him. We explored those matters last week. This week I want to focus on another principle from our text:

To avoid divorce, cultivate your relationship with your wife.

As I observed last week, our text is addressed to the men, and so I am addressing the men. The Bible does not allow men to be passive in the realm of marriage and family. Chuck Swindoll once was talking with a Christian counselor friend. Chuck asked him, “What is the number one problem you face in counseling?” Without hesitating, the counselor shot back, “Passive males.”

I don’t know if it’s because men feel intimidated in the area of relationships or what. Many men just want peace in their homes, and they think that by yielding to whatever their wives want, they will gain peace. So they avoid dealing with problems. They fall into what Douglas Wilson calls “the nice guy syndrome” (Reforming Marriage [Canon Press], pp. 77-85). They let the home run on auto-pilot, assuming that their wives have it all under control. But they abdicate loving leadership in their marriages and with their children. Their wives grow increasingly frustrated and angry. But the husbands don’t get it. They think, “I work long hours to bring home a good paycheck. I go along with whatever she wants. Why is she upset with me? Why can’t I just have some peace and quiet when I come home from a long day’s work?”

If you leave today with only one thought, men, it should be: your marriage requires deliberate cultivation. As someone has said, “Even if marriages are made in heaven, man has to be responsible for the maintenance” (John Graham, Reader’s Digest [11/79], p. 157).

You don’t walk by a house with a beautiful flower garden and a lush, manicured lawn, and think, “They’re sure lucky to have that kind of yard. I wish my yard would automatically look like that!” A beautiful yard requires deliberate cultivation and effort, not just when you put it in, but also over the long haul. Weeds and bugs take over if you let them. I’ve been battling a fungus in our yard for years, and if I let it go, it spreads. It takes constant work and attention. Your marriage is the same way: it requires constant cultivation and attention. As the spiritual leader in your home, God holds you accountable for cultivating your marriage relationship. Part of the responsibility of leaders is to deal with problems, not to be passive.

Remember, your aim in obeying God in this matter is not so that you will have a happy, peaceful marriage, although God usually gives that blessing when we obey Him. Your aim should be to please and glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31). Our text reveals four ways that a husband needs to cultivate his relationship with his wife:

1. Constantly cultivate commitment to your marriage covenant.

I emphasized this last week, but it bears repeating because the world is constantly chipping away at this biblical idea of covenant commitment in marriage. One way the enemy worms his way into Christian marriages is when a husband allows rivalry to develop in the marriage. Many Christian marriages are a battleground for the war between the sexes. She has a bad attitude toward men and he rolls his eyes and thinks, “Women! Who can understand them?” Their marriage becomes a football field with husband and wife on opposite sides, and the scoreboard tells you who is winning.

Early on in a marriage the husband needs to emphasize to his wife, “We’re on the same team. I am for you and you are for me. God has put us together to complement one another and build one another in Christ. Let’s solve our problems from this perspective.” Especially when a couple has a misunderstanding or disagreement, it is important verbally to reaffirm mutual covenant commitment. The husband, as the head of the wife, should give her the security of saying, “I love you and my aim is to present you holy and blameless before Christ (Eph. 5:25-27). Now, let’s talk about what is wrong.”

1. Constantly cultivate companionship with your wife.

“She is your companion” (2:14). The Hebrew root word has the idea of being knit or joined together, thus pointing to a close relationship (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, R. Laird Harris, Gleason Archer, & Bruce Waltke [Moody Press], 1:260). As I said last week, when Adam was in the Garden of Eden, in perfect fellowship with God, God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18), and He created Eve for Adam. Men, your wife should be your best friend on earth.

Friends spend time together. They talk about everything from the superficial to the significant. They share their deepest feelings and hopes and fears. Friends listen to one another and draw out their thoughts (Prov. 20:5). Friends just like being together, even if they aren’t talking. Friends accept one another, while at the same time they have a commitment to help each other grow in Christ.

Friends enjoy doing things together and find separation painful, not pleasant. Although I have to do it occasionally, I dislike going to a conference or on a trip without Marla. I do not enjoy having fun without Marla as much as if she is with me. Someone said, “Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years” (Simone Signoret, Reader’s Digest [12/87], p. 45). I would argue that it is both chains and threads: the chain of covenant commitment, and the threads of doing things together.

Years ago, when our children were toddlers, I was meeting weekly with some young men that I was seeking to disciple. One day one of these men excitedly told me about a fishing trip to Mexico that he had planned and asked if I would like to go. As he described things, I couldn’t quite picture how the accommodations would be adequate for Marla and the kids. So I asked, “Where will our wives and children stay?” He looked at me like I was crazy and said, “This is just for the guys!” I looked back at him like he was crazy and said, “I would not enjoy myself if Marla and the kids couldn’t come!”

I’m not condemning guys who like to go do things just with the guys. There is freedom in Christ to do that. But for me, Marla is my best friend, and I prefer having her along. And when the kids were still at home, we both liked having them with us. Even when we used to get away for a couple of days without the kids, we would get to the motel, look at each other, and both of us would say, “I miss the kids!” We just like being together.

I cannot give you chapter and verse on this, in that the biblical culture is far removed from our modern culture, but for our family, our annual vacations have been the highlight of our years together. We’ve never spent a lot of money on our vacations, which is why we took up camping. It’s relatively cheap and we avoided the high cost of restaurants by cooking our meals on our camp stove. But the memories that we have of enjoying God’s beautiful creation together bind us together. I am amazed when I learn that some Christian families seldom, if ever, take vacations together!

But it doesn’t have to wait for a vacation. Marla and I often take a hike together. We also like to take a picnic dinner and go to a beautiful spot to watch the sunset. The idea is to spend time together. However you do it, cultivate companionship with your wife!

2. Constantly cultivate romance with the wife of your youth.

I think that Malachi chooses the phrase, “the wife of your youth” (2:15) to appeal to the hearts of these insensitive husbands, who were trading in their older wives for younger models. They were familiar with the Scriptures, and immediately would have thought about Proverbs 5:18-19. Solomon is exhorting his son to avoid adultery and to be faithful to his wife: “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth. As a loving hind and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; be exhilarated always with her love.” If that kind of graphic language embarrasses you, may I say, you need to become more biblical in your thinking, because God saw fit to put such language in His Word!

Romantic love and sexual attraction in marriage change and deepen over time. That is inevitable as our bodies age and as we go through life’s joys and trials together. The initial phase of romantic love is pretty much spontaneous, which is why we call it falling in love. You don’t have to do much to fall, except to slip and let gravity take over.

But romantic love over the long haul in marriage is not spontaneous. It requires deliberate attention and cultivation. By saying, “the wife of your youth,” Malachi encourages you to think back to the early days when you fell in love with your wife. Think about the many years and memories that you have built together. Appreciate the qualities that attracted you to your wife. Figure out ways to express your love and appreciation to her. That includes telling her, verbally, that you love her.

I heard about a wife who complained to a marriage counselor that her husband never told her that he loved her. He snapped, “I told her that 25 years ago, and I haven’t changed my mind!” Sorry, but that doesn’t cut it, guys! When you were courting your wife, you put some effort and creativity into letting her know that she was special to you. Do the same thing now!

Solomon commands the husband to rejoice in the wife of his youth (Prov. 5:18). Rejoicing is an emotional response. You may ask, “How can God command an emotion? We can’t conjure up emotions, can we?” But the fact is, God commands all sorts of emotions! “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). True joy is an emotion. “Hate evil, you who love the Lord” (Ps. 97:10). Hatred is a strong emotion. “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise” (Ps. 100:4). True thankfulness and praise are matters of the heart, not just mouthing words. So God commands us to have certain emotions, which means that we can cultivate them if we lack them.

Some men may be thinking, “How do you rejoice in the wife of your youth when all you feel now is anger and bitterness when you think about her?” Again, the Bible commands us to control our thoughts (Phil. 4:8). Some thoughts are evil and need to be put off, whereas other thoughts are righteous and need to be put on  (Eph. 4:31-5:2). If your wife is behaving in ungodly ways toward you, you can respond in an ungodly or in a godly manner. Passively retreating from her anger to buy peace, while harboring bitterness in your heart, is not a godly response. Scripture specifically forbids returning evil deed for evil deed or insult for insult (1 Pet. 3:9).

You can determine to deal with her wrong behavior in a biblical manner. When you begin acting in godly ways, controlling your thoughts and seeking to build your wife in Christ, your emotions will eventually follow your thoughts and actions. When you pray faithfully for your wife and deliberately cultivate commitment, companionship, and romance in your marriage, you will begin gradually, but surely, to feel joy towards the wife of your youth.

There is a fourth area that we must cultivate in our marriages:

3. Constantly cultivate tender responsibility toward the one “under your garment.”

As I explained last week, “cover your garment with wrong [or, violence]” (2:16) refers to the Hebrew custom of a man showing his intention to marry a woman by draping his outer garment around her shoulders. It pictured the protective care and provision that he was promising her as his wife. To divorce your wife is to yank off that protective covering and leave her exposed and vulnerable to evil forces that would seek to harm her. In New Testament terms, the husband is the head of the wife, and part of that role requires him tenderly to nourish, cherish, and protect her as he does his own body (Eph. 5:28-29).

As Douglas Wilson points out in Reforming Marriage (pp. 23-26), the Bible does not command husbands to be the head of their wives, or say that they ought to be the head. Rather, it states it as an inescapable fact. Husbands may be faithful, diligent, effective leaders in their marriages, or they may be passive, inattentive, and ineffective leaders. But the Bible states that the very nature of the marriage relationship involves the headship of the husband.

Both the fall of the human race into sin and the modern feminist movement have brought mass confusion and imbalance into Christian marriages about this matter of the headship of husbands. I have seen some men who think that the model for being the head is that of a drill sergeant in boot camp. He uses his authority to bark orders and he expects the wife and kids to obey.

I once asked a man whose marriage was in trouble what his understanding of headship was. He replied, “If I tell my wife and kids to paint the house black, they grab a brush and paint it black!” It is not surprising that his marriage subsequently broke up! He knew nothing about tenderly nurturing and protecting his wife. His idea of headship was that it is a privilege for him to use for his own purposes. The biblical idea is that headship is a responsibility before God to be exercised for the edification of those under that protective covering. The Bible forbids lording it over those under your leadership (1 Pet. 5:1-2).

On the other hand, many Christian husbands have abdicated leadership in their homes, often (in their minds) to buy some peace. He wouldn’t dare attempt to lead his wife, because he tried that once and met with stiff resistance. He wouldn’t think of confronting his wife’s sin, because she would really make things difficult at home if he did that! So he contents himself with the thought that he brings home the paycheck and he lets her dominate their relationship and have free reign in running the household. All he asks is for a little peace and quiet after a hard day’s work. If his wife asks for his opinion, he says, “Whatever you want, dear.” He can’t understand why she is so frustrated with him, since he’s such a nice guy! The reason she’s frustrated is that he is not fulfilling his God-given role to lead her and the family in the ways of God.

Both Douglas Wilson’s Reforming Marriage and Stuart Scott’s The Exemplary Husband [Focus Publishing] have excellent sections on biblical leadership in the home. Wilson gives some specific steps on how to turn from passivity to godly leadership in your marriage (pp. 77-85) Scott has two chapters on leadership (pp. 117-142) and another helpful chapter on helping your wife deal with her sin (pp. 205-226). There is a wealth of far more material in these sources than I can develop here. I wish that every Christian husband would read these chapters often and prayerfully, and humbly before God take responsibility for godly leadership in their homes. I have seen marriages break up and others degenerate into unhappy battlegrounds because husbands were not diligent in this important biblical responsibility.

Scott develops the idea of the exemplary husband as a shepherd-leader (pp. 120-129). He points out that we are not kings, but lowly under-shepherds, doing the bidding of the Chief Shepherd. Any authority that we exercise must be to accomplish God’s purpose and to care for and build up our wives. He develops eleven qualities of a shepherd, which I only have time to list here, with a brief comment. Each husband should think about how to apply these in his own marriage.

  1. A shepherd knows where he is going. Our direction as husbands comes from God’s Word, which means that we must saturate ourselves with that Word. If you are not consistently in God’s Word, you cannot lead your family spiritually.
  2. A shepherd knows how to lead lovingly. A true shepherd denies himself in order to love and care for his sheep.
  3. A shepherd leads by example. How we live speaks more loudly than our words. Hypocrisy undermines godly leadership.
  4. A shepherd knows how to oversee. He does not lord it over his wife or control her, but gives freedom in Christ.
  5. A shepherd is involved. He views the home as his God-given responsibility, for which he will give an account.
  6. A shepherd is diligent in his responsibility. He doesn’t make excuses about being too tired, too busy, or not being gifted in this area. He seeks to grow in his ability to lead.
  7. A shepherd protects. He is on the lookout for danger, especially spiritual danger, and is ready to intervene.
  8. A shepherd provides. He cares for his wife’s every need and makes the well-being of his flock his concern.
  9. A shepherd instructs. A godly husband helps his wife understand and grow in the knowledge of God through His Word.
  10. A shepherd corrects. He does not sit there with a helpless or apathetic shrug of his shoulders when the sheep to go astray or get into danger. He deals with his own sin first. If he must correct his wife, he does it for her good, that she might become holy, not because she is irritating him.
  11. A shepherd seeks to restore his sheep. His aim is not to win or to put her in her place, but to help her where she is hurting, so that she can walk in a manner pleasing to the Lord.

Conclusion

Josephine Lowman wrote (Reader’s Digest [date unknown]):

Building a good marriage and building a good log fire are similar in many ways. You build a fire with paper and kindling, and all at once it goes up in a brilliantly burning blaze. Then the primary blaze burns down and you wonder if the fire will fizzle out and leave you in the dark. You blow on it and fan it for all you are worth. Sometimes smoke billows out and almost chokes you, but if the materials are good and if you invest enough energy and interest in maintaining it, soon the big solid logs catch, and your fire takes on new qualities.

Husbands, our responsibility before God is to keep the fire burning in our marriages. Untended fires soon die down to a heap of coals and then ashes. You have to feed them continually to keep them burning.

Or, to use the gardening metaphor, you have to cultivate constantly or the weeds and bugs take over. Are you constantly cultivating commitment to your marriage covenant; companionship with your wife; romance with the wife of your youth; and, tender responsibility toward the one “under your garment” of protection? If you have not been diligent, God allows U-turns. Pick up one of the books I mentioned and begin this week to cultivate your relationship with your wife!

Discussion Questions

  1. How can a husband who is not as spiritually mature as his wife lead her in the things of God? How can she help, not hinder, him?
  2. Must the husband always be the leader? What if the wife is the more dominant, leader-type personality?
  3. What if a husband and wife do not enjoy the same activities? How can they develop companionship and romance?
  4. How can a previously passive husband take on leadership of his family, especially if his wife is resistant to the idea?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2003, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Divorce, Love, Marriage, Men's Articles

Lesson 7: What to Do When Evil Prevails (Malachi 2:17-3:6)

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We all wrestle with the difficult age-old questions, “Why do the wicked prosper?” and “Why do the righteous suffer?” It is especially hard when you have done right and you get penalized, while the guy who did wrong got ahead. You were praying and counting on God’s promises, but things did not turn out the way you had expected. It seems as if God did not even hear your prayers. But the guy who scoffs at God is doing great. You begin to wonder, “Why follow God when all I get is trials? If there is a God of justice in heaven, why doesn’t He do something about all the injustice in the world? Is it worth it to follow the Lord?”

Many of the Jewish people in Malachi’s day were struggling with this problem. They were under the thumb of the Medo-Persian Empire, which was godless and yet prosperous. Many Jews had become disappointed with God. He had not done for them what they had hoped. They grumbled, “If He is the God of justice, why do we see all of this injustice in the world?” Some had even slipped into cynical agnosticism, doubting that a just God even exists. Malachi shows them (and us) what to do when evil seems to be winning:

When evil prevails, we must not challenge, but trust in and obey the God who sends His Messiah to judge the earth.

The chapter break is misplaced here, in that 2:17, the peoples’ complaint, goes with 3:1-6, which is God’s answer.

1. When evil prevails and God seems to delay, we are prone to challenge His justice (2:17).

Their disappointment with God as they saw the trials of His people and the prosperity of the wicked had led many of the Jews to think that morals do not matter. They thought, “There’s no correlation between obedience to God and blessing in this life. So we may as well live for all the good times and good things we can get.”

The prophets had predicted a glorious future for Israel. But here they were, back in the land for over 100 years after the captivity, and things were not all that glorious. Israel was still under foreign domination. She was not the center of the earth, with the nations flocking to Jerusalem with their wealth. The old folks were not sitting in the streets watching the children play securely The land was not yielding abundant produce. Just a hundred years before, Zechariah had prophesied that all of these conditions would come about. But here they were, and none of his prophecies about the glory of Israel had materialized. They weren’t even close!

The rebuilt temple was a disappointment to many. It didn’t compare to the former glory of Solomon’s temple (Ezra 3:12-13). Haggai (2:7-9) had prophesied that the latter glory of this temple would be greater than the former temple, but there was no evidence of that yet. Because of these disappointments with God’s promises, many were voicing their skepticism and even daring to question if a God of justice exists. Some even mocked God, saying that He delights in evil people and calls them good!

I hope that you’ve never said such things, but I know that you have thought such things. We all have. Maybe you’re struggling with these issues now. You thought that when you trusted Christ, He would give you an abundant life and relief from some major problems. Instead, you seem to have more problems than you did before! You didn’t use to struggle against sin, but now it’s a daily battle that you often lose. You didn’t use to worry about pleasing God with your use of time and money, but now you feel guilty for squandering those things. In fact, now you feel guilty about things that you didn’t even know were sin before you became a Christian. You’ve prayed a lot, but rather than getting better, your problems seem to grow worse. You wonder, “What difference does it make if I follow the Lord or not? Where is the God of justice?”

Even if you have not verbalized these thoughts, God knows about them. Malachi says that such words weary the Lord! He is using human language to apply to God, since there is a sense in which Almighty God cannot be weary (Isa. 40:28). But there is another sense in which we can try God’s patience (Isa. 7:13) and “wear Him out,” much like a parent gets weary of hearing his child’s constant complaining. So we need to check our thoughts when they run in this direction. We should pay attention to God’s answer to this difficult problem of what to do when evil prevails.

2. God’s answer to the problem of evil is to send His Messiah to judge the earth (3:1-6).

God has a plan to right every wrong and punish all evildoers. That plan centers in His Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will suddenly come into His temple. “But,” Malachi asks, “are you sure that you want Him to come?” “Who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears?” (3:2). It’s easy to say, “Won’t it be great when Jesus comes again?” But if our personal and family lives are not right with God, we will be terrified at Jesus’ coming, because He is holy and He will judge everyone.

Although the coming of the Messiah is sudden, it is not without warning:

A. God graciously sends His messenger to prepare the way for His Messiah (3:1a).

Malachi is referring here to Isaiah’s prophecy, “A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God’” (Isa. 40:3). This was a prophecy of John the Baptist, the forerunner whose ministry God used to prepare the way for Jesus Christ. John’s father prophesied of him while he was yet a baby, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, …” (Luke 1:76-77). Jesus applied Malachi’s prophecy to John (Matt. 11:10).

Malachi (4:5) predicts that Elijah will come before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. The disciples asked Jesus, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus answered, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things; but I say to you, that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him,…” Matthew adds, “Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist” (Matt. 17:10-13).

Thus Malachi’s prophecy has a double fulfillment, as many prophecies do. John the Baptist was the messenger who came in the spirit and power of Elijah, to prepare the way for the Lord’s first coming. Before Jesus’ second coming, there will be two witnesses who powerfully bear witness (Rev. 11:1-12). It is likely that one of these witnesses will be Elijah himself.

The imagery of preparing the way before the Lord came from the custom of clearing the road and preparing a town for the visit of the king. Before the king traveled, he sent out messengers who proclaimed his coming. They didn’t have road crews back then to keep the highways in good shape. So when the townspeople heard that the king was coming, they would go out and fill in the ruts and potholes, and clear away rocks and debris. They got everything ready for the coming of their king.

God in His grace does not come upon us unannounced. If He did, He would often find our lives in shambles. We get sloppy about sin. There are potholes and ruts, with rocks strewn all over the place. So He graciously sends His messenger to proclaim, “The Lord is coming! Get ready! Fill in the potholes of sin! Clear out the rocks of self-centeredness and pride. Repent and bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance” (see Matt. 3:2, 8). Although I am a far, far lesser voice than John the Baptist or Elijah, I hope that you will listen when I tell you, “Prepare yourself! Get ready! The King is coming!” As 1 John 3:3 tells us, “Everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

But after the warning of God’s messengers,

B. God’s Messiah will come suddenly, both to purify His people and to judge the wicked (3:1b-6).

When Malachi says (3:1), “The Lord whom you seek” and “the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight,” he is using irony. In effect, he is saying, “You’re asking, ‘Where is the God of justice? We want to see Him.’ So, you’re looking for Him? Let me tell you, He is coming. In fact, He is coming suddenly! But you need to ask, ‘Can I endure the day of His coming? Can I stand when He appears?’ Because when He comes, He is going to clean house on Israel and He is going to judge all the wicked. So if you really seek Him, you’d better get ready to meet Him!”

You may wonder, “How can the Lord’s coming be sudden when it has been announced by His messenger?” Let me answer with an illustration. Some of you recall when Mount St. Helens blew its top in 1980. Geologists knew that something was brewing. They could see the bulge on the side of the mountain and they could measure the increasingly threatening tremors. They warned the local residents to get out of there.

But did they leave? Some did, but others didn’t. There was one old man named Harry Truman who had lived there for decades. When the newscasters interviewed him, he said that the mountain had been there for centuries. He didn’t believe that it would blow up, so he wasn’t going to move. But suddenly, one morning the mountain exploded. Harry Truman and others like him who had ignored the warnings perished. Destruction came on them suddenly.

You are hearing me say now, “The Lord is coming back suddenly to judge the earth. None who ignore this warning will escape!” Do you say to yourself, “Yeah, sure! I know that Jesus is coming, but He hasn’t come for almost 2,000 years. There’s no sense getting all worked up about it. I’ve got time before I need to repent.” But remember, “The Lord of glory always comes as a thief in the night to those who sleep in their sins” (Schmieder, cited by C. F. Keil, Commentary on the Old Testament, Minor Prophets [Eerdmans], p. 458).

Malachi shows us who this coming Messiah is and what He will do, first with regard to His true people, and then with those who claim to be His people, but practice wickedness.

1) God’s Messiah is God in human flesh (3:1b).

Sometimes critics say that the Bible never claims that Jesus Christ is God. That is utter nonsense! Verse 1 is about as strong a statement on the deity of Christ as anyone could write. The speaker here is “the Lord of hosts,” who says that He is sending His messenger (John the Baptist) “before Me.” Whom did John go before? Jesus! Jesus is one with Me, that is, God!

He is also called here, “the messenger of the covenant.” This phrase occurs only here, but it refers to Jesus, by whose blood the eternal covenant of salvation was ratified and mediated to His people (Heb. 13:20). He is called “the Lord, whom you seek,” who was also identified in 2:17 as “the God of justice.” The Hebrew word for “Lord” is Adon. When used with the article, as it is here, it always refers to God (A. R. Fausset, A Commentary Critical, Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testaments, with Robert Jamieson and David Brown [Eerdmans], pp. 720-721; Walter Kaiser, Malachi, God’s Unchanging Love [Baker], p. 81). (See Exod. 23:17; 34:23; Isa. 1:24; 3:1; 10:16, 33; Dan. 9:17). Also, the text says that the Lord will come into His temple. The temple belongs only to God, not to any man.

Yet at the same time, this messenger who is the Lord is distinguished from the speaker, the Lord of hosts. The language is similar to Psalm 110:1, “The Lord [Yahweh] says to my Lord [Adonai], ‘Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.’” Jesus used this psalm to confound His enemies (Matt. 22:42-45). The Messiah is clearly David’s son, and yet David calls Him “Lord.” How can this be?

This is the mystery of the Trinity: God is one God and yet He exists eternally in three persons, each of whom is fully God and yet distinct in personhood. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are eternally God, and yet the Father can send the Son and the Son can send the Spirit. Each is a distinct Person, not just a different manifestation of God. Yet they are not three gods, but one God. In our text, the point is that the messenger of the covenant (Messiah) who comes suddenly into His temple is God.

2) God’s Messiah will purify His covenant people and judge the wicked (3:2-6).

Note that there is a difference in God’s judgment here. With some, the Lord acts as a refiner’s fire and a fuller’s soap. The intent of both of these treatments was to purify, not to destroy. But with others, the Lord will draw near for judgment, bear swift witness against them, and (as implied in 3:6 and stated in 4:1) consume them. The difference between the two groups is that the former is the object of God’s unchanging covenant love (3:6, 1:2), whereas the latter is not. The former are Jews who truly believe in God, but need to be cleansed of their sins. The latter are Jews by birth, Jews outwardly, but they do not fear God and so they ought to fear His judgment (see Rom. 2:28-29; 9:6-8).

As with many Old Testament prophecies, these verses blend together the two comings of Jesus Christ. He came the first time to seek and to save the lost by offering Himself as the perfect and final sacrifice of God for sinners (Heb. 10:1-18). He will come the second time to deal out retribution to those who do not know God and who do not obey the gospel (2 Thess. 1:8).

All whom He saves, He purifies so that they may present to Him “offerings in righteousness,” that is, the true worship of yielding our lives as living sacrifices to Him (Rom. 12:1-2). We offer to Him the sacrifice of praise and thankfulness, along with doing good and sharing (Heb. 13:15-16).

The purifying process is often painful, as the analogy of fire implies. The Oriental silversmith would heat the silver until the impurities, the dross, bubbled to the surface. He would keep skimming it off until he could see his face clearly reflected in it. Even so, the Lord uses the fires of affliction to produce purity in His people, so that His image is reflected in us (Heb. 12:3-11).

But with others, the purpose of the fire is not to purify, but to destroy (3:5, 6; 4:1). These people wanted God to judge Israel’s pagan neighbors, but they refused to judge their own sins. God gives a representative list of sins, each of which was a breaking of His law and a cause for judgment. “Sorcerers” refers to those who use any sort of occult practices. “Adulterers,” of course, refers to those who are unfaithful to their marriage vows. “Those who swear falsely” covers everything from bending the truth in our personal relationships to perjury under oath in court. “Those who oppress the wage earner, the widow, and the orphan” and “those who turn aside the alien” refer to the wealthy and powerful who take advantage of those weaker than they are. At the bottom of all of these sins is, they do not fear God.

It is of utmost importance that you know for certain that you are in the group that the Lord purifies and refines, not in the group that He consumes in judgment! How can you know? First, is your trust in Jesus Christ and His death on the cross as your only hope for forgiveness of your sins? If it is, then, second, you know that God has changed your heart. You are submitting to the Lord in trials, trusting that He will work these things together for good (Rom. 8:28). You strive to be holy because you fear God (2 Cor. 7:1). You offer to the Lord sacrifices of praise that come out of the gratitude of a heart that He has cleansed. To sum up,

3. Our response to God’s promised Messiah should be to trust Him and obey His Word.

God’s promise to send His Messiah is His answer to those who struggle with the problem of the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous. He will judge the wicked. The trials of the righteous are His purifying fires, designed to develop His holiness in them for His glory and their good.

But, the remarkable thing about God’s answer is that He did not send His Messiah in the lifetimes of the people in Malachi’s day! It would be over 400 years before John the Baptist began crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord”! Meanwhile, the Jews had to endure four long centuries without a true prophet. They had to endure the oppressive rule of the wicked Antiochus Epiphanes, as well as the Roman occupation. Since Messiah’s first coming, God’s people have endured 20 long centuries of trials, while they watch the wicked prosper. Mockers say, “Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Pet. 3:4). How should we then live in this evil world? Three brief words of encouragement:

A. Trust God by guarding your attitude when you go through trials.

If you find yourself doubting whether God loves you or whether He really will punish the wicked, get alone in His presence. Read Psalm 73, where the author was struggling with the same issue, until he went into the sanctuary of God. There he realized, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:26). Read Hebrews 12, which assures us that God’s discipline stems from His love for us as His children. His aim is that we might share His holiness and enjoy the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Heb. 12:10-11). Trust Him!

B. Obey God by holding to His absolute moral standards.

The people in Malachi’s day were saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them” (2:17). In other words, morals do not matter, because God doesn’t immediately zap the wicked; in fact, they seem to prosper. We live in a day when even the church is joining the culture in abandoning God’s moral absolutes. But our holy God does not change (3:6)! His moral standards do not shift with the winds of the times. If His Word calls something sin, then it still is sin! When someone breaks God’s moral standards and seems to be doing just fine, don’t be deceived. God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows, he will reap (Gal. 6:7-8).

C. Obey God by developing compassion for evil people who need His grace.

These people wanted God to zap the prosperous, wicked pagans, but Malachi adroitly shows that by pointing their finger at others, they had three fingers pointing back at themselves! The fact is, we all deserve God’s judgment. If He has shown us mercy, it is the epitome of self-centeredness to say, “Now that I’m saved, God, You can judge all the pagans out there!” It’s as if I had been in a shipwreck and was drowning with many others. God came along and pulled me into the lifeboat. I no sooner get in than I say, “Let’s head for shore. Why are we sitting out here in these waves? I’m cold and want to get dried off. Let’s go!”

Conclusion

When you see evil prevailing and you long for that “new heavens and new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13), remember God’s reason for delaying judgment: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). Ask God to give you His heart of compassion for sinners, so that He can use you to reach out to them with the good news of Messiah’s first coming and the warning of His second coming. When evil prevails, don’t challenge God. Trust Him and obey His Word. In His time, His promise to send His Messiah to judge the earth will be fulfilled.

Discussion Questions

  1. How should a Christian process disappointments with God?
  2. How would you answer a person who says, “My God is a God of love; He doesn’t judge anyone”?
  3. Is there a direct connection between a believer’s trials and some specific sin in his life? Give biblical support.
  4. Is it wrong to complain to God? How can we be honest about our struggles, and yet not sinfully challenge God?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2003, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Christology, Prophecy/Revelation, Spiritual Life, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

Lesson 8: Robbing God (Malachi 3:7-12)

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[A gavel bangs several times.]

BAILIFF: Order in the court! Court is now in session! The case today is: “Malachi versus the People of God.”

The charges: The plaintiff maintains that the defendant is guilty of robbing God.

JUDGE: As presiding judge, I must tell those of you on the jury that these are weighty charges. If guilty, the defendant faces serious consequences that will affect both him and his descendants for many years. So please hear the case carefully. We want no miscarriage of justice. The prosecuting attorney may call his witnesses.

PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: Thank you, Your Honor. My first witness is this gentleman from a remote region in Central Asia. He does not speak English, and so the following has been translated. Sir, you claim that these people have robbed you. Can you explain?

ASIAN MAN: Yes. My people have no Bible in our language and no missionaries in our area. For centuries, we have lived and died without hearing the good news about Jesus Christ, the Savior. But these people have had the Bible and the gospel in their culture for centuries. They have plenty of money, not only for basic needs, but also for many frivolous toys and luxuries. Yet they have not given sacrificially so that my people might hear about the Savior. We have been robbed!

PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: Thank you, sir. My next witness, Your Honor, is this orphan from Africa. Her parents both died of AIDS. I found her living on the streets and scavenging for food in the garbage. Can you tell the court how these people have robbed you?

AFRICAN GIRL: I have not actually seen any of these people before today. All I have known is a hard life, trying to survive and to compete for food with the other children on the streets. Before I came here, I had no idea that anyone lives as these people do! I hear that they just go to the store and buy all the food that they need! I hear that the stores and restaurants here throw away much better food than we find in Africa. I wonder if I could move to America so that I could look for food in the dumpsters here?

PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: Thank you, honey! Your Honor, my last witness cannot speak, at least not verbally. It is this human baby in this jar of formaldehyde. I could have brought in millions of them, but this one will have to do. If it could talk, it would say that it was robbed by the defendant, because if God’s people had given more to the pro-life cause, this child might not have died. Counseling centers and homes for unwed mothers might have been established to help pregnant young women keep their babies. So much more could have been done, if only more funds were available. The money is there, Your Honor. It’s just that these people have spent it on themselves, with little regard for God’s perspective. This baby was robbed of life! I rest my case.

JUDGE: The defense attorney may now speak.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Thank you, Your Honor. I’m sure that you and the jury will quickly see how silly these charges are! I ask you to consider several lines of evidence.

In the first place, my client is an upstanding, law-abiding, church-going citizen who would never dream of robbing anyone! He has never personally seen any of these victims and has never been near them or their property. Yet here he is being charged with robbing people he has never seen or met! It’s ridiculous!

Second, my client has worked hard to earn every cent that he has. He has never been on welfare. He has earned the right to spend his money as he pleases!

Third, my client never used his possessions or wealth to hurt anyone. He only asks for some peace and quiet, so that he can enjoy the benefits of his lifetime of hard work. He has just followed the American dream of the good life and of having enough to enjoy his retirement years. He certainly did not intend to harm these people who live on the other side of the earth!

Finally, my client was not aware that he was breaking any law. He is charged with robbing God, but we have only heard from these human witnesses. To bring God into the case is unconstitutional. We have a separation between church and state in this country. Besides, my client believes in God. He is a good church member and has often volunteered his time, not to mention his many years of tithing. This extremist prophet has framed my good client! I ask the jury to find him not guilty!

[The jury exits to consider the case.]

Could it really be that decent, law-abiding, religious folks are guilty of robbing God? Isn’t the prophet going overboard to level such charges against people whose lives are centered on their religion? Might their reaction (3:8) be justified: “How have we robbed God?”

And, yet, the charges stand. They are repeated in one form or another four times in verses 8 and 9, so that we can’t miss them. God charged the whole nation with robbing Him. And yet they were blind to the charges. If these religious Jews were guilty of the charges, but also blind to them, then perhaps we should seriously consider whether we, too, may be guilty, but blind, to the same charges. God is saying,

If we have robbed God, we must return to Him and give obediently to His kingdom purposes.

Consider, first, the charge:

1. God charges His people of robbing Him.

First God gives a general charge of disobedience and then He narrows it to the specific charge of disobedient giving.

A. God’s people rob Him when they follow cultural religion that dodges radical obedience to God’s Word (3:7).

These people were living just as their fathers and grandfathers before them had lived, as culturally believing Jews. That was the problem. Their ancestors claimed to be followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but their religion was largely outward and cultural, not inward and heartfelt. Over the years, such religion gradually picks up elements of the culture, blending them in with the prescribed customs and rituals. This is called syncretism. God charges them and their ancestors of turning aside from His statutes and not keeping them. But they are dumbfounded by the charges.

It’s a wonderful thing to come from a long line of Christians. A Christian upbringing spares you much of the devastation that comes from a pagan background. But a Christian upbringing has its dangers. It is easy for the reality of a daily walk with God to leak out over the generations, where it becomes ritualistic and mechanical. Legalism creeps in, where families have rigid standards, but they aren’t necessarily biblical standards. Hypocrisy is another danger. Parents preach one thing, but the way that they relate to each other and to the children does not reflect the fruit of the Spirit. Gradually, a family drifts into a form of religion without the reality of knowing God, living by faith, and obeying His Word.

When these Jews protested the general charge of disobedience, God got specific:

B. God’s people rob Him when they fail to obey His Word with regard to giving (3:8-10).

This is called, “Going from preaching to meddling”! It’s easy to say in general, “I obey God.” So the Lord says, “Let’s get specific: How is your giving?” Ouch!

Giving is one of the most fail-proof litmus tests of your relationship to God. On more than one occasion, Jesus linked a person’s giving to eternal life. When Zaccheus, the wealthy tax collector, got right with God, his first recorded words were, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much” (Luke 19:8). His salvation immediately touched his pocketbook. Jesus confirmed this formerly greedy man’s conversion by saying, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9).

Contrast that with the tragic account of the rich young ruler. He seemed like such an eager potential convert. He came running (not walking) to Jesus and asked, “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” What a witnessing opportunity! So Jesus said, “That’s easy. Just invite Me into your heart by faith.”

No, that’s not what Jesus said. He knew that the man had an idol. So He said, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But the man went away grieved, unwilling to obey Jesus’ words. Jesus didn’t run after him and say, “How about ten percent?” Rather, He said to the disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:17-23).

In Luke 16:10-11, Jesus states that our stewardship of money is a test of how we will do with more important responsibilities: “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?” In the context, the “very little thing” is the money that God has entrusted to us! The “much” or “true riches” are the souls of people. Our use of money is God’s test of whether He can entrust souls to our care!

You can impress other Christians by your extensive Bible knowledge, your fervent prayers, or your many years of service in the church. But God does not look at any of those things to test your faithfulness. Rather, He looks at how you manage the money that He has entrusted to you. Are you greedy or generous? Do you have integrity in money matters? Are your priorities and motives for earning, spending, saving, and giving in line with His Word?

So, to evaluate God’s charge that we have robbed Him, we have to examine our stewardship of money. Maybe you’re thinking, “Whew, I’m off the hook, because I give ten percent to the Lord’s work!” Well, maybe, but probably not!

It may shock you to learn that ten percent is not the biblical standard for giving (for a longer treatment, see John MacArthur, Whose Money Is It, Anyway? [Word], pp. 97-113). Abraham once gave Melchizedek ten percent of his spoils from a single battle, but there is no indication that he regularly gave ten percent. Jacob promised to give God ten percent if God would do what Jacob wanted Him to do, but that is hardly a biblical model for giving! The Law of Moses actually prescribed several tithes that would have amounted to somewhere between 20-25 percent (Lev. 27:30-33; Num. 18:20-21; Deut. 12:17-18; 14:22, 28, 29). But in Israel, the tithe functioned more like an involuntary tax than as a freewill offering.

Many preachers (especially Baptists!) use Malachi 3:10 to teach “storehouse tithing.” One Baptist commentator says, “So-called storehouse tithing does have a sound basis in this verse.” The idea is that the church is the storehouse where you are supposed to give ten percent of your income. Anything that you give to other Christian organizations should be over and above that ten percent that goes to the local church.

I wish that I could promote that idea, because I’m sure that our church income would go up substantially if everyone did that! Frankly, we could use the money, both for ongoing budget expenses and to meet our need for more property and facilities. But that application stretches this text beyond credulity. The storehouse refers to the storage rooms at the temple, where the people brought the first fruits of their harvest. The priests who served at the temple used this produce for their needs. I’m sad to say that the storehouse was not the local church and the tithe is not the New Testament standard for giving!

It is significant that tithing is never mentioned in any instructions to the church, although much is said about giving. If the church is supposed to give ten percent, it seems strange that Paul did not mention this when he wrote to predominately Gentile churches, which would not be familiar with the Law of Moses.

People get nervous when you take away that ten percent figure. Somehow, it’s comfortable and simple to give ten percent. But the problem with tithing is that people get the notion that once they’ve paid God ten percent, they’re free to squander the rest on themselves. But I think that God would charge such people, however sincere they may be, with robbing Him.

You may wonder, “If I don’t tithe, then how do I determine how much I’m supposed to give?” The New Testament principle is that God owns it all. We just manage it for Him. The New Testament standard is, give generously and cheerfully “as God has prospered you,” out of gratitude for His indescribable gift of salvation (1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 8 & 9; Acts 11:29). For those who are very poor, ten percent may represent generous, sacrificial giving. For those who have ample salaries, ten percent may be robbing God.

I think that John Piper’s teaching is sound, that Christians ought to live with a wartime mentality, gladly making personal sacrifices in order to advance Christ’s cause. If we expect missionaries to live sacrificially for the sake of the gospel, shouldn’t we hold ourselves to the same standard? If we live in relative luxury while people perish because there aren’t enough funds to get the gospel to them, are we not guilty of robbing God?

Before we look at God’s remedy for how to turn from this crime, please notice the mandatory sentence:

2. Robbing God carries the sentence of God’s curse.

All crime is dumb, but robbing God is really dumb, because God knows that you are guilty and you can’t escape His sentence.

A. When we rob God, we come under His curse (3:9).

“You are cursed with a curse … the whole nation of you!” To rob God is to shoot yourself in the foot, and it doesn’t just hurt you. It also hurts all of God’s people. By withholding their tithes and offerings, the people forced the priests and Levites to work for their own support. That meant that they had to neglect the temple, causing worship to suffer. The inadequate worship adversely affected the Jewish families that came there to worship.

Not only that, but when the people refused to trust God by giving, God allowed the devourer to attack their crops (3:11). That may refer to locusts or other insects, or to hail or drought. God, who controls all of His creation, can either block harmful forces from our lives or turn them loose to wreak havoc. God does not delight in sending plagues on His people. But every parent knows that if you do not discipline your children when they disobey, you are not acting in love towards them. As God’s children, we need to learn that sin has negative consequences. Obedience opens the windows of heaven to pour out God’s blessings (we will look at this in our next study).

B. When we rob God, the nations miss God’s blessings (3:12).

When God’s people obey Him with their giving, the nations will see how God blesses His people and they will be drawn to the delightful land. The world isn’t drawn to disobedient Christians who are under God’s discipline. They are drawn to obedient believers who know the joy of God’s delightful blessings. Our generous giving to the cause of world missions directly blesses those who hear the gospel and come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

I cannot say whether or not you are robbing God. It is a matter for each of us, myself included, to examine individually, prayerfully and continually. I find that it’s easy to slip into a worldly mindset with regard to giving. But if you are guilty of robbing God, He gives the remedy here:

3. We stop robbing God by returning to Him and by giving obediently to His kingdom purposes.

A. We stop robbing God by returning to Him (3:7).

God does not say, “Return to keeping My law,” although the people needed to obey His law. Rather, He says, “Return to Me.” When we have sinned, the root need is always relational, not just for outward conformity to a rule or law. The motive for obedience, whether in morals or giving or whatever area, should always be love for the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

How would my wife feel at Christmas if I gave her a present and when she said, “Thank you,” I replied, “I was just doing my duty as your husband”? Even if it were a really nice gift, my loveless motive would kill the joy of the gift! If my relationship with her is right, then the gift will not be a duty, but a delight!

If you’re not giving generously, systematically, and sacrificially to the Lord out of love and gratitude to Him, then you need to return to Him. Get your relationship right and giving becomes a joy and delight. Notice, also, God’s abundant, gracious love. Even though Israel had sinned against Him for centuries, He promises that if they would return to Him, He would return to them (3:7). Like the father of the prodigal son, God is ready to run to us with His gracious forgiveness and restoration, when we return to Him.

B. We stop robbing God by giving obediently to His kingdom purposes.

1) Relationship is inseparable from obedience.

As Jesus said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love…. You are My friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:10, 14). In other words, you cannot be living in disobedience to God and truly say, “I love Jesus” or, “I’m under grace.” That would be like me saying, “I love Marla,” all the while that I was committing adultery against her! Love for my wife is inextricably bound up with obedience to my marriage vows.

2) Obedience must be total, not partial.

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.” I presume that they were giving something. They just weren’t giving what the Lord required. They weren’t obeying completely. They were like folks who salve their conscience by dropping a few bucks in the offering plate every once in a while. But they weren’t being faithful stewards of all that God had entrusted to them.

Partial obedience isn’t really obedience; it’s just convenience. If I got audited on my income taxes, I wouldn’t fare well if I told the agent, “I pay most of my taxes, except when it’s inconvenient.” If my kids only obeyed me when it was convenient for them, I wouldn’t call that obedience!

Although for many Christians, giving ten percent would be a huge increase, tithing is really not all that difficult. You have to budget and be disciplined to do it, but it can become a routine matter. But if God requires that we give as He has prospered us, and that we seek first His kingdom and righteousness by laying up treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:19-33), that’s a different matter! It means that I constantly must examine my heart motives and my stewardship of all that God has entrusted to me. I need to judge myself in this area not by the standards of our culture, but by God’s Word. We all should ponder often Paul’s words to Timothy:

Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed (1 Tim. 6:17-19).

Conclusion

The jury files back in after deliberating your case. What would the verdict be? Are you guilty of robbing God? I’ll leave you to wrestle with that before the Lord, not just this week, but as a recurring battle as you seek to be a faithful steward of all that He has graciously entrusted to you for His kingdom purposes.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is tithing a hindrance to biblical giving? Why/why not?
  2. In a world of endless needs, how can a sensitive Christian know when he has given enough?
  3. Is it a sin to live in luxury when people are in desperate need? What is luxury? Does God require us to live in poverty?
  4. How should we harmonize, “Give to everyone who asks of you” (Luke 6:30) with, “if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either” (2 Thess. 3:10)?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2003, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Comfort, Cultural Issues, Discipleship, Finance, Missions, Sacrifice, Spiritual Life

Lesson 9: God’s Dare (Malachi 3:12-12)

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Writer Oscar Schisgall tells of how, as a young man, he went into a park to think through an important personal issue. He had been engaged for four years, but didn’t dare to marry. He had no steady source of income. Besides, he and his fiancée had dreamed of living in Europe. How could they move so far away with no certainty of income?

Just then he looked up and saw a squirrel leap from one tree to another. He seemed to be aiming at a branch so high that the jump looked like suicide. He missed that branch, but landed safely on a lower branch, and then made his way up the tree.

An old man sitting on the bench said, “Funny, I’ve seen hundreds of ’em jump like that, especially when there are dogs around and they can’t come down to the ground. A lot of ’em miss, but I’ve never seen any hurt in trying.” Then he chuckled. “I guess they’ve got to risk it if they don’t want to spend their lives in one tree.” Schisgall thought, “A squirrel takes a chance—have I less nerve than a squirrel?”

He and his fiancée married and sailed for Europe. As he worked hard at writing, the money began to come in, providing for their needs. He said that since then, whenever he has had to choose between risking a new venture or hanging back, he can hear the little old man on the park bench say, “They got to risk it if they don’t want to spend their lives in one tree” (Parables, Etc., 6/82).

I wonder if some of you, spiritually speaking, are confined to one safe tree. You’ve been there for some time and have not jumped out in faith to be where God wants you to be. Your experience with the Lord is somewhat comfortable, but, frankly, somewhat stagnant. To you, the Lord issues a dare: “I dare you to trust Me by giving to My kingdom as you should. Go ahead, jump, and see if I don’t catch you and hold you up.” That’s God’s dare to His people in Malachi 3:10-12:

God’s dare: If we will give properly, He will bless abundantly.

God challenges us to prove that He means what He says. He is waiting to do business with us, whenever we’re ready. He promises to open the windows of heaven and pour out blessing until we can’t contain it all. The only delay is on our part. As soon as we trust Him by taking the jump, He will show us that there are many more trees to enjoy than we had ever imagined. God says, “I dare you to obey Me by giving properly.” The question is, are you willing to take God up on His dare? Note, first:

1. The dare: Test Me!

A. This is an unusual dare.

Normally, God does not invite His people to test Him. In fact, Scripture contains some strong rebukes in situations where God’s people have put Him to the test. In Malachi 3:15, God rebukes the “doers of wickedness” who put Him to the test. In Psalm 95:8-11, which refers to the generation that died in the wilderness, God warns His people not to imitate them. He says, “your fathers tested Me, they tried Me, though they had seen My work. For forty years I loathed that generation….” It sounds like risky business to put God to the test!

But here, God throws down the challenge. He dares us to test Him to see whether or not His promise is true. When God dares us to test Him, we would be sinning to refuse (see Isa. 7:10-16).

B. This is a risky dare.

Of course, when God tells you to do something, it is not risky in the ultimate sense, because you know that He will sustain you. But from our perspective, it still seems risky at first.

1) This is a risky dare because it involves up-front faith.

God is saying, “You begin to give to Me first, and I’ll pour out the blessings in response.” “Uh, listen, Lord, how about if You bless me first, and then I’ll give as You want me to give?” No, it doesn’t work that way. It’s like Peter walking on the water. You’ve got to get out of the boat and take that first step. Peter couldn’t keep one foot in the boat while he tested the water with his other foot, to see if it would hold him up. It was all or nothing.

God asks us to give to Him up-front, off the top. Each of us should determine by faith and prayer a pre-planned amount that God wants us to give on a systematic, regular basis. As I said in our last study, the New Testament standard for giving is not ten percent, but “as the Lord has prospered you” (1 Cor. 16:2). That means that as we earn more, we ought to give proportionately more to the Lord’s work. The principle of giving God the first fruits means that we shouldn’t buy everything we think we need, and then give God the leftovers. Rather, we trust Him by giving off the top of the paycheck.

That’s risky, isn’t it? What if I give at the start of the month and I have some unforeseen problem, so that I come up short at the end of the month?

I read about a man who was having trouble with this concept.  He had been taught tithing, so he told his pastor, “I don’t see how I can give ten percent to the church when I can’t even keep on top of our bills.”

The pastor replied, “John, if I promise to make up the difference in your bills if you should fall short, do you think you could try giving that much for just one month?”

John thought about it for a moment and then replied, “Sure, if you promise to make up any shortage, I will try giving ten percent for one month.”

“What do you think of that?” mused the pastor. “You say you’d be willing to trust a mere man like me, who possesses so little materially, but you couldn’t trust your Heavenly Father, who owns the whole universe!” John began giving regularly off the top each month, and God always met his needs.

Up-front giving is risky because it requires faith. God’s dare exposes our lack of faith. Malachi was preaching to comfortable, cultural believers, but they weren’t living on the cutting edge of trusting God. Not only that, but they were grumbling against God because their circumstances weren’t as pleasant as they had hoped. The many promises about a glorious future for Israel had not come true. Israel was still under foreign domination. The crops weren’t all that great. So they were grumbling. Whenever we grumble about our circumstances, we’re really grumbling against the God who ordains and controls our circumstances. They were blaming God for not blessing them, but God puts the blame where it belongs: “You haven’t trusted Me by giving as you should. Test Me by bringing the whole tithe into the storehouse, and see if I don’t bless you until you can’t hold any more.”

So if you’re holding back on giving until the Lord blesses you, you’ve got it backwards. Give generously, by faith, off the top, and God will bless you. We are called to walk by faith. Giving what you can comfortably afford after you’ve bought everything you think you need isn’t giving by faith.

2) This is a risky dare because it involves money.

God could have said, “Test Me now in this: Serve Me by teaching Sunday School.” Teaching Sunday School is a vital ministry, but for most of us there’s not a lot of risk in doing it. God could have said, “Test Me now in this: Read your Bible every day.” That’s a good thing to do, and I hope you do it, but reading my Bible every day isn’t risky. But when God says, “Test Me now in this: Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.” Yikes! That’s risky!

You can’t fake it with giving. It really is the bottom line! God knows that our hearts follow our treasure. Invest a chunk of your treasure in the stock market and your heart will be in the daily stock report. Give God your treasure and your heart will be in the things of God. There’s no such thing as truly giving God your heart without also giving Him your treasure. If your heart is too much in the world, it’s probably an indication that your treasure is too much in the world. Put your treasure in God’s kingdom and watch your heart follow!

So God’s dare is, “Test Me now in this: Give generously, up-front by faith, and I will bless you.” But don’t overlook the fact that the dare hinges on a condition:

2. The condition of the dare: Give properly.

Some promises in the Bible are unconditional. They depend totally on God and His faithfulness to His Word. But other promises are conditional, and our text is such a promise. We must fulfill the condition, “give properly,” for God to fulfill the blessing. The text reveals three aspects of proper giving:

A. Proper giving involves adopting God’s priorities.

Verse 10 shows that God is concerned about His house, the temple. He wanted the people to give so that the priests could be supported so that proper worship could be carried on at the temple. God’s house was where He manifested His glory at the mercy seat. Worshiping God at His temple was the ultimate priority for God’s people.

Today, the church is God’s house, His temple (Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:5). Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Eph. 5:25). He said, “I will build My church…” (Matt. 16:18). His purpose in our day is to be glorified in and through His church, by saving His elect and building them together into a holy dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Eph. 1-3). So the church is not just a nice extra, a spoke in the wheel of life. Christ and His church ought to be the hub for the believer. Everything should revolve around the church, because building the church is what God is doing in the world. You will give properly only when you make Christ and His church your priority.

I heard about a man who complained that the church was always asking for money. Obviously, he did not see the priority of what God is doing through the church. His friend said to him, “I know how you feel. But a while back, something happened that changed my thinking.

“A baby was born into our family. We discovered that he needed a lot of things—clothes, food, medical attention, and many other things. As the little boy grew, we kept having to pour out money for him. The older he got, the more it cost! Teenaged boys consume a lot of food!

“But last year, in his junior year of high school, he was killed in an auto accident. Since the funeral, he has not cost us one penny. Which way do you think we would want it?”

If our priority is life, we will spare no expense to preserve it. If one of my kids faced a life-threatening condition and it cost me a million dollars to get the proper medical care, I’d go into debt for the rest of my life to provide it.

If our priority is to see lost people receive eternal life through Christ, shouldn’t we give all that we can to help His church carry out that mission? If we spend more on entertainment, our pets, and other non-essentials than we give to fulfill the Great Commission, our priorities are not right. We’re not seeking first His kingdom.

B. Proper giving involves adopting God’s perspective toward money.

As I said in our last study, God picks money as the litmus test of our faithfulness. He says, “Do you want My blessing?” “Oh, yes, Lord! I pray constantly for Your blessing.” “Fine! Bring the whole tithe into My storehouse. Then I will know that you are faithful to Me, and I will pour out My blessing.” These folks were probably token givers, dropping a bit in the collection box to salve their consciences. But they didn’t have God’s perspective on money.

Last time we saw that when Jesus said, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10), the “very little thing” refers to money. “Much” refers to eternal riches, to the souls of people. The person who has a lot of money in his portfolio is not truly rich in God’s sight. The truly rich person is the one who manages the very little thing (money) that God entrusts to him in such a way that God’s kingdom is advanced.

The point is, you’ll never give properly if you view money and material possessions as the world does, as the really big thing in life. You’ll greedily hang on to all that you can get. You’ll build bigger and bigger barns to hold it all, but you won’t be rich toward God (Luke 12:15-21). But if you adopt God’s perspective, you’ll see money as the means of laying up treasures in heaven, by giving to reach lost people with the gospel. Proper giving means adopting God’s priorities and His perspective toward money.

C. Proper giving involves adopting God’s timing: Now!

God says, “Test Me now in this….” Don’t wait until you’re out of college and have a comfortable income. Don’t wait until you strike it rich. Don’t wait until the kids are out of the nest and you are financially secure. Don’t wait until you get through the current crunch, and then you’ll apply this. “Test Me now!

If you’re in debt, with credit cards maxed out, you need to curtail your spending and work out a plan to get out of debt. But part of your budget should include giving. Even if you’re below the poverty line, you can figure out ways to give if you really want to.

Years ago, I read about a church in Thailand of 400 members where every member tithes. As I said, ten percent is not God’s standard, but rather how He has prospered you. But in their case, ten percent represents sacrificial giving. These people were receiving a weekly wage of 20 cents, plus their rice!

Because of their faithfulness, they were able to support their own pastor. They had sent two missionary families to spread the gospel in another area. They give substantially to help the poor and the sick, because they relate to their need. By the way, every person in this church has leprosy! But, they give!

Procrastination is the foe of obedient giving. It’s always easier to think about obeying God tomorrow than actually obeying Him today. It’s like the farmer whose pastor visited him to see if he could help support the Lord’s work. The pastor asked, “If you had two farms, would you be willing to give one to the Lord?” The farmer said, “Of course! I only wish I were in a position to do so.”

The pastor then asked, “If you had $10,000, would you give $5,000 to the Lord’s work?” The farmer exclaimed, “I’d love to be able to give like that!”

Then the pastor sprung his trap: “If you had two pigs, would you give one to the church?” The farmer was taken aback for a moment, but then blurted out, “That’s not fair! You know I’ve got two pigs!” (“Our Daily Bread,” Fall, 1980)

We wrongly think that we will be less anxious if we get our nest egg in place first. Then we will be in a position to give. But the Lord said that we will increase anxiety if we live like that. The only secure investment is one where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves cannot break in and steal (Matt. 6:19). To overcome financial anxiety, start laying up treasures in heaven now.

So, God’s dare is, “Test Me!” The condition is, Give properly.

3. The reward of the dare: Abundant blessing.

God promises to bless us more than we can handle if we will obey Him by giving properly to His work. You think, “Wow, I’ve always wanted to be rich! If I give to God, then He will bless me so that I can get that new car and …” Wait a minute! God promises three blessings, but wealth is not one of them.

A. God promises the blessing of adequate provisions (3:11).

This is not a promise of wealth, but of adequate provision. The unbiblical “health and wealth” teaching preys on greed: “Give and you’ll get rich,” or, more accurately, “Give to my ministry and you’ll get rich!” But the motive is wrong. God never blesses greed.

God’s promise is rather, “If you will open the bottom of the funnel by giving generously, I’ll pour it in the top of the funnel so that you will not suffer lack. But if you greedily close up the bottom of the funnel, I’ll quit pouring it in the top.” Paul elaborates on this principle (2 Cor. 9:8): “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.” As has often been said, “You can’t out-give God.” If you give generously, God will take care of your basic needs.

B. God promises the blessing of fruitful ministry (3:12a).

“All the nations will call you blessed, …” Israel was to be a blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:1-3). When God’s people give generously to his cause, then the nations will hear the gospel and in turn bless those who gave to bring the good news to them. What greater joy can there be than to meet someone in heaven who says, “Thank you so much for giving to the cause of missions, so that I heard about Jesus Christ”? What better way to invest your money than in the souls of people for whom Christ died?

C. God promises the blessing of a delightful life (3:12b).

“You shall be called a delightful land.” In a delightful land, people live delightful lives. This may ultimately refer to the millennium, but to whatever degree God’s people obey Him by giving generously to His work, the land is delightful. The sins stemming from greed are diminished. Needs are met. People find Christ. Love is demonstrated. Obedience in giving opens the floodgates of God’s blessing in other areas.

Conclusion

A man who set the example by taking up God’s dare was George Muller, who is famous for founding an orphanage in Bristol, England, in the 19th Century. While Muller cared very much for the orphaned children, his deeper motive in opening the orphanage was to prove the faithfulness of God to a skeptical world. He determined never to make the financial needs of his work known, except to the Lord in prayer. Each year he published a journal after the fact, describing how God had answered prayer by meeting the needs of the children in the previous year. Although there were times of severe testing, the children never missed a meal.

What many do not know is that Muller not only received millions of pounds in answer to prayer; he also gave away millions to God’s work from funds that came in for his personal support. If he had wanted, Muller could have lived lavishly, but he kept his lifestyle simple and gave everything else away. I once calculated that from 1831-1885, Muller gave 86 percent of his personal income to the Lord’s work! He said, “My aim was never how much I could obtain, but rather how much I could give” (Arthur T. Pierson, George Muller of Bristol [Revell], p. 299). He would pray the money in so that he could give it out as the Lord led.

From 1870 on, Muller personally contributed enough annually to the China Inland Mission to largely support the entire staff of 33 missionaries (Roger Steer, George Muller: Delighted in God! [Harold Shaw Publishers], p. 224)! Appropriately, Roger Steer’s biography of George Muller is subtitled, “Delighted in God!” Muller had a delightful life because he took God at His dare by giving properly. People from around the world to this day call him a blessed man.

How about you? Are you going to stay in the same “spiritual tree” all your life, afraid to trust God, making up excuses why you can’t give as He wants you to? God says, “I dare you to give!” Go for it—now!

Discussion Questions

  1. Should a person who is in debt and who can’t meet monthly expenses give off the top? Why/why not?
  2. How can we determine what is prudent in terms of providing for future needs?
  3. Why is the “health and wealth” teaching unbiblical? What Scriptures disprove it?
  4. If the tithe isn’t the standard, how can a conscientious believer know where to start in terms of off-the-top giving?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2003, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Finance, Rewards

God's Judgment Is Refining (Zephaniah 3:8-13)

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Zephaniah (part seven)

Persecution and divine judgment have a common result: refinement. One of the Bible's favorite images for the Day of the Lord's judgment is a consuming fire. Fire conveys a number of impressions: angry, unstoppable, painful, and purging. God's fiery visitation of humanity will not result in annihilation but purification. The goal of the Lord is not to eliminate all of humanity but that some of humanity would faithfully serve Him. God will be glorified before, during, and after the consuming fire that our species will experience in the Day of judgment.

Related Topics: Character of God, Eschatology (Things to Come), Glory, Hamartiology (Sin), Prophecy/Revelation, Rewards, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

第 27 課 屬靈爭戰的軍備 — 真理 (以弗所書 6:14上)

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所以要站穩了,用真理當作帶子束腰…

引言

我經常為福音書記載耶穌禁止鬼說出祂的身份而感到奇怪。讓我們先來看看以下的一個例子:

1:23 在會堂裏,有一個人被污靈附着,他喊叫說:1:24「拿撒勒人耶穌,你與我們沒有相干,你來滅我們嗎?我知道你是誰,乃是 神的聖者。」1:25 耶穌責備他說:「住口,從這人身上出來!」1:26 污靈使那人抽搐一陣,大聲喊叫,就出來了。(馬可福音 1:23-26)

在這裡,耶穌為何禁止污靈說話呢?若他們所說的並非真話,那便不難理解,但耶穌確實是神的聖者,那要來毀滅牠們的。既是這樣,為何祂不容許牠們為祂的身份作見證?我相信可能有多於一個原因,其中一個原因是耶穌不希望由說謊者為祂作見證。耶穌有足夠的見證人,包括:天父、舊約聖經、施洗約翰、祂自己的工作,還有祂的追隨者。誰會希望由著名的說謊者來為自己作見證呢!耶穌對牠們的領袖 撒旦說:

8:44 你們是出於你們的父魔鬼,你們循着你們父的私慾行。他從起初就是殺人的,不守真理,因他心裏沒有真理。他說謊是出於自己,因他本來是說謊者,也是說謊者之父。(約翰福音8:44)

讓我們逐一檢視基督徒的屬靈裝備。保羅以真理作為第一件防禦武器,並不讓人感到奇怪。撒旦是說謊者,他透過誤導和詭詐的計劃來攻擊基督徒(以弗所書6:11)。真理是神賜給我們抵禦的軍備,令撒旦的謊言能夠被識破並加以抵抗,以致我們能持守信仰,站立得穩。讓我們留心地細讀保羅有關真理的教導,這對我們的靈性健康極之重要。

帶子束腰

我們穿衣時有一定的次序,首先我們會穿上「內衣」,因為其它衣服會穿在外面,我會最後才穿鞋,因我討厭穿鞋後才穿褲子。同樣地,軍備也要按一定次序穿上。帶子束腰是基督徒為屬靈爭戰作預備的第一步。在聖經裡,帶子束腰是一個準備步驟,為其它行動作準備。

你也知道,以色列古代的衣服和今天的差異很大。他們穿的不是褲子、運動外套或套裝。他們所穿的衣物,並非如今天按身型剪裁;他們的衣服是披在身上,衫長及地。一個人如果要跑而又不希望被絆倒,他需要收攏衣服,用帶子束好。因此,當進行和腳相關的活動時,準備的第一步便是帶子束腰。

以色列人第一次吃逾越節羊羔,為他們出埃及、進入應許之地作準備。因此,神命令以色列人吃的時候,要腰間束帶,為那接著要發生的事情作準備。

12:11 你們吃羊羔當腰間束帶,腳上穿鞋,手中拿杖,趕緊地吃,這是耶和華的逾越節。(出埃及記 12:11 和合本)

彼得寫信給本都、加拉太、加帕多家、亞西亞和庇推尼的信徒時,也要求他們預備和作好心理準備:

1:13 所以要預備心意行動(原文是束上你們心中的腰),謹慎自守,專心盼望耶穌基督顯現的時候所帶來給你們的恩典。1:14 要像順命的兒女,不要效法從前蒙昧無知的時候所服從的惡慾,1:15 卻要效法那召你們的聖者,在一切所行的事上成為聖潔。1:16 因為經上記着說:「你們要聖潔,因為我是聖潔的。」(彼得前書1:13-16).1

我相信,當保羅在以弗所書第六章談及帶子束腰,他的意思應該和彼得相同,是呼籲信徒作好心理準備。真理將收集得來的零散資料整理,過濾資訊,並且判斷是否符合真理和美善。

真理的重要性

聖經告訴我們為何真理對基督徒十分重要。讓我們簡略地看看真理在基督徒生命所扮演的角色。

(1) 我們因真理而得救:

1:13 你們既聽見真理的道(那叫你們得救的福音),而且信了基督;既然信他,就受了所應許的聖靈為印記。1:14 這聖靈就是我們得基業的憑據,直等到 神之產業被贖,他的榮耀得着讚美。(以弗所書1:13-14).

1:18 他按自己全權的旨意藉着真道生了我們,叫我們在他所造的萬物中,好像初熟的果子。(雅各書1:18)

1:23 你們蒙了重生,不是由於能壞的種子,乃是由於不能壞的種子,是藉着 神活而常存的話。(彼得前書 1:23)

(2) 我們透過真理成聖,並且成長至成熟:

17:17 求你用真理使他們成聖,你的道就是真理。(約翰福音17:17).

4:11 是他(神)賜的,有使徒、有先知、有傳福音的、有牧師和教師,4:12 為要裝備聖徒各盡其職,就是建立基督的身體;4:13 直等到我們眾人在信上和認識 神的兒子上同歸於一,得以成熟,達到基督量度的階段。4:14 我們就不再作小孩子,中人的詭計和欺騙的手法,被他們所教導的風浪吹蕩翻騰。4:15 惟用愛心實踐真理,凡事在元首基督裏長進。4:16 全身都靠他聯接成長,百節彼此相助。各節既各盡其職,身體就在愛中長大。(以弗所書4:11-16).

(3) 真理給我們帶來心意更新。從未得救前的無知與虛妄,到心志按神的話語和祂的道更新:

4:17 所以我說,且在主裏堅持的說,你們不要再像外邦人虛枉的生活。4:18 他們心地昏昧,與 神的生命隔開,都因自己心裏剛硬,以致一無所知。4:19 他們既然麻木,就放縱自己,貪行種種的污穢。4:20 你們學的基督,卻不是這樣。4:21 如果你們真的聽過他,在他裏面受教,學了裏面的真理,4:22 你們所學的就是脫去從前生活方式的舊人;這舊人是因私慾的迷惑漸漸變壞的;4:23 又要在靈裏將你們的心志改換一新;4:24 並且穿上新人;這新人是照着 神的形像造的──有真理的公義和聖潔。(以弗所書 4:17-24)

12:1 所以弟兄姐妹們,我以 神的憐憫激勵你們,獻身體為祭,是活的,是聖潔的,是 神所喜悅的;這是你們合理的事奉。12:2 不要與現今的世界同流,而要心意更新改造,去察驗 神的旨意,就是那善良、完全、十分可悅的旨意。(羅馬書 12:1-2)

(4) 真理是基督徒合一的基礎。 (參以弗所書4:5, 13)

(5) 真理造就和建立教會。(以弗所書4:15, 25, 29)

(6) 真理是真正敬拜神所不能或缺的:

神是靈,所以拜他的必須用靈和真理拜他。(約翰福音 4:24)

(7) 教會是神膏立去宣告和展示真理的途徑:

3:14 我指望快到你那裏去,但先將這些事寫給你。3:15 倘若我延了期,你也可以知道在 神的家中當怎樣行,因這家就是永生 神的教會,真理的柱石和根基。(提摩太前書3:14-15)

3:8 我本來比眾聖徒中最小的還小,然而他還賜我這恩典,叫我把基督那測不透的豐富傳給外邦人;3:9 又使眾人都明白,這歷代以來隱藏在創造萬物之 神裏,奧秘的計劃,3:10 就是要藉着教會使天上執政的、掌權的,現在得知 神百般的智慧。(以弗所書3:8-10)

(8) 真理是我們不可缺少的知識;然而若非神主動成就,我們無法在祂以外自己得到永恆的事,若不是神透過超自然的方法給人啟示,人無法知曉。以弗所書所說的真理包括神永恆的計劃。這計劃包括我們被揀選、得救與及屬靈的恩賜(以弗所書1:3-14),也包括撒旦和他的黨羽終極被殲滅(6:10-20),並且一切在基督裡同歸於一(以弗所書1:10)。真理也啟示了教會的奧秘是透過基督的寶血,神和以色列人與及外邦人和好(以弗所書2-3章),藉著教會使天上執政的、掌權的得知神的智慧(3:1-10)。真理給基督徒一個全新的思維和行為表現,和我們仍未信前顯著不同(4:1–6:9)。

真理是我們從未想象過的,因為它並不屬於世人的,而是從神顯明出來的;它是智慧,超出人類的智慧,故此我們不能預期,我們若沒有神的啟示和聖靈的幫助,我們甚至不能相信:

11:33 深哉, 神豐富的智慧和知識!他的判斷何其難測,他的動向何其深奧!11:34「誰知道主的心?誰作過他的謀士呢?」11:35「誰是先給了他,使他後來償還呢?」11:36 因為萬有都是本於他,藉着他,歸於他。願榮耀歸給他,直到永遠!阿們。(羅馬書11:33-36)

2:6 然而在成熟的人中,我們也講智慧;但不是這世代的智慧,也不是這世代必要傾滅之執政者的智慧。2:7 我們講的乃是從前所隱藏的奧秘,就是 神在萬世以前預定使我們得榮耀的智慧。2:8 今世的執政者沒有一個明白這智慧,他們若明白,就不會把榮耀的主釘在十字架上了。2:9 就如經上所記:「 神為愛他的人所預備的,是眼睛未曾看見,耳朵未曾聽見,人心也未曾想到的。」2:10 神藉着聖靈向我們啟示了這些事,因為聖靈瞭解萬事,包括了 神深奧的事。2:11 除了在人裏頭的靈,誰知道人的事?同樣,除了 神的靈,也沒有誰知道 神的事。2:12 我們所領受的並不是世上的靈,乃是從 神來的靈,叫我們能知道 神白白賜給我們的一切。2:13 並且,我們講說這些事,不是用人智慧所教導的言語,乃是用聖靈所教導的言語,將屬靈的事講與屬靈的人聽。2:14 不信的人不領會神聖靈的事,反倒以為愚笨,並且不能明白,因為這些事惟有屬靈的人才能瞭解。2:15 屬靈的人能瞭解萬事,卻沒有一人能明白他。2:16「誰知道主的心而作他的顧問呢?」但我們是有基督的心了。(哥林多前書 2:6-16)

(9) 耶穌基督是真理,故此離開真理便是離開祂:

8:31 耶穌對信他的猶太人說:「你們若繼續遵守我的道,就真是我的門徒。8:32 你們必曉得真理,真理必叫你們得以自由。」(約翰福音8:31-32)

14:6 耶穌說:「我就是道路、真理、生命;若不藉着我,沒有人能到父那裏去。 (約翰福音4:6)

2:1 我願意你們知道,為了你們和老底嘉人,並一切沒有與我見過面的人,我是何等的盡心竭力。2:2 他們既已用愛心彼此連繫,我的目標是要叫他們得勉勵,豐豐足足在悟性中徹底認識 神的奧秘,就是基督,2:3 在他裏面蘊藏着一切的智慧和知識。2:4 我說這話,免得有人用似乎有理的話欺騙你們。2:5 我身子雖與你們相離,靈卻與你們同在,見你們循規蹈矩,在基督裏的信心堅定蓬勃,我就歡喜了。

2:6 你們既然接受了基督耶穌為主,就當繼續在他裏面活着;2:7 在他裏面生根建造,信心堅固,正如你們所學的,滿溢着感謝的心。2:8 你們要謹慎,不要被人用虛空的哲理,不照着基督,而是照人間的傳統和世上的小學問,把你們擄去。.…

2:16 所以不可讓人在飲食,或節期、月朔、安息日等各樣事上判斷你們。2:17 這些原是將來的事的影子,那實體卻是基督。2:18 不可讓人憑着重視謙虛和敬拜天使來判斷你們。這人拘泥在所以為見過的,隨着自己血氣的思念,無故的自高自大,2:19 不緊接於元首,靠着他與全身筋節得以相聯,而有從 神而來的長進。(歌羅西書2:1-8, 16-19) 2

(10) 真理告訴我們撒旦的詭計和欺瞞方法,並且他的暴露錯誤和欺騙手段。

2:11 免得撒但有機可乘(因我們並非不曉得他的詭計)。 (哥林多後書2:11) 3

撒旦敵擋真理

按本質,撒旦是個說謊者,我們可以肯定地說他是個病態的說謊者(約翰福音8:44),就是在無需說謊的時候,他仍會說謊。他不但自欺,還會迷惑人(啟示錄12:9)。從起初,撒旦已透過敵擋真理來敵擋神和屬祂的子民。在歷史長河裡,撒旦使用的戰術就如聖經所顯示的,讓我們一起來看看。

(1) 撒旦的工作是使人無法接觸真理,或不讓真理傳給人。

4:15 那撒在路旁的:就是人聽了道,撒但立刻來,把撒在他們心裏的道奪了去。(馬可福音 4:15 15)

4:3 即使我們的福音被蒙蔽,也是蒙蔽在滅亡的人身上。4:4 此等不信之人,被這世界的神弄瞎了心眼,叫他們看不見基督榮耀福音的光。基督本是 神的像。(哥林多後書4:3-4) 4

(2) 撒旦否定真理,他常以「新真理」來取代真理的位置。

3:1 那時,蛇比耶和華 神所造的一切動物更狡猾。蛇對女人說:「 神真的有說『你們不可吃園中任何樹上的果子』嗎?」3:2 女人對蛇說:「園中樹上的果子我們可以吃,3:3 惟有園當中那棵樹上的果子, 神曾說:『你們不可吃,也不可摸,否則你們就要死。』」3:4 蛇對女人說:「你們一定不死,3:5 因為 神知道你們吃了以後,眼睛就打開,你們便如神明,知道善惡。」3:6 女人見那棵樹的果子好作食物,也吸引人的眼目,而且渴想它能使人得智慧,就摘下果子來吃了;又給她丈夫,她丈夫也吃了。 3:7 他們二人的眼睛就打開了,才知道自己是赤裸的,便拿無花果樹的葉子,編縫以蔽體。(創世記3:1-7).

在亞當和夏娃受試探而失足的個案中,撒旦斷然否定神的真理。神說若亞當和夏娃吃了禁果必死;撒旦大膽否定,並且保證他們不會死。你可曾想到撒旦在這裡稱神為說謊者?撒旦否定了神向亞當和夏娃啟示的真理,並告訴這對夫婦吃禁果是最有益的行為。

(3) 撒旦企圖透過撒播錯誤的教導和教義來取代真理,以此來迷惑人。

4:1 聖靈明說,在後來的時候,必有人離棄真道,沉迷在那引誘人的邪靈,和鬼魔的教導。4:2 受了說謊之人偽善的影響;這等人的良心已經被烙了。4:3 他們禁止嫁娶,又禁戒食物,就是 神所造,叫那信而明白真道的人,感謝着領受的。4:4 凡 神所造的物,都是好的,若感謝着領受,就沒有一樣食物是可棄的,4:5 都因 神的道和人的禱告,成為聖潔了。(提摩太前書4:1-5).

這篇經文最有趣的地方,是它告訴我們一些超出我們的期待的事情。撒旦的手段通常是間接地使人犯罪。他的方式是那麼含蓄,表面看來那麼好、那麼公義;但他實際上是促使人犯罪,他從我們的盲點進行襲擊;他的手法是透過假教師指婚姻生活應禁慾,又或許是禁止吃用某些食物。這些原是神賜給我們,給我們享用和使生命更豐富的東西,但撒旦卻企圖阻止我們從中得益處。更壞的是他這樣做是埋下陷阱,以下的經文告訴我們撒旦怎樣進行他的計劃:

7:3 丈夫當用合宜的婚姻生活待妻子,妻子待丈夫也要如此。7:4 妻子沒有權柄主張自己的身子,乃在丈夫;丈夫也沒有權柄主張自己的身子,乃在妻子。7:5 夫妻不可彼此拒絕,除非雙方同意,才可暫時分房,以便專心禱告,以後仍要同房,免得撒但趁着你們情不自禁引誘你們。(哥林多前書7:3-5)

5:14 所以我寧願年輕的寡婦嫁人,生養兒女,治理家務,不給敵人毀謗的把柄;5:15 因為已經有轉去隨從撒但的。(提摩太前5:14-15)

一對夫婦為了能更屬靈,他們決定禁戒房事。他們並非如保羅的指示作短暫的分房,而是長期性的。撒旦知道人缺乏自制力,早晚會導致不道德行為。保羅支持正當的性行為,因為這不單是美好的,讓人享受(但這必須在婚姻的框架下進行 希伯來書13:4),而且還可避免不道德行為(哥林多前書7:2-5)。

有些人認為年青寡婦喪偶後守寡更為屬靈,過獨身生活提供專心服侍神的機會(哥林多前書7:25-35)。然而,若寡婦沒有委身的心志和缺乏自制力,不再結婚而維持單身,使她們陷入網羅;她們轉去隨從撒旦,她們懶惰、說長道短或做了一些更不道德的事情。5

(4) 撒旦歪曲真理。他加添或刪除部份內容,或謬誤地應用以致事情變了樣。撒旦試探我們的主時(馬太福音4:1-11路加福音4:1-13),他引用聖經來達到他的目的,而不是建立敬虔的行為。撒旦透過斷章取義,企圖扭曲經文;不過主耶穌透過指出聖經更廣泛的原則來糾正他。撒旦尋求「蚊蟲濾過來」,但主耶穌卻指出「駱駝」(參馬太福音23:23-24)。撒旦的目的是扭曲聖經的教導,從而產生罪;並把神聖恩典,曲解成為藉口,甚至授權犯罪。

1:4 因為有些人溜進你們中間,他們就是自古被定罪受這刑罰的,是不敬虔的,將我們 神的恩典作為放縱情慾的藉口,並且不認我們獨一的主宰和主耶穌基督。(猶大書 1:4) 6

(5) 撒旦的工作是使人違背真理。撒旦知道叫人違背真理,好像不讓他們認識真理一樣好。

7:24「凡聽見我這些話又去行的,就好像一個聰明人把房子蓋在磐石上。7:25 雨淋,泛濫,風吹,房子屹立不倒,因為根基立在磐石上。7:26 凡聽見我這些話卻不去行的,就好像一個愚蠢人把房子蓋在沙土上。7:27 雨淋,泛濫,風吹,房子就倒塌了,並且是完全的毀壞。」(馬太福音 7:24-27)

2:4 人若說「我認識他」,卻不遵守他的誡命,便是說謊話的,真理也不住在這人心裏了。2:5 凡遵守他的道,愛 神的心在這人裏面是完全的,憑此我們知道我們是在他裏面;2:6 人若說自己住在神裏面,就該照耶穌所行的去行。(約翰壹書2:4-6) 7

(6) 撒旦激勵人的好奇心和自我(ego),以致他們拋棄神的真理,而去追求「更高」的真理。神把「分辨善惡樹」栽在伊甸園中,亞當和夏娃被禁止食用那樹的果子,其它樹上的果子他們可以隨便吃。撒旦不單引導亞當和夏娃注意這棵禁樹,並引導他們留意到那樹的果子可以給他們「知識」,我們知道這「知識」並非如撒旦所呈現的那麼好,我們現在明白為何神要禁止吃用這果子。不過,亞當和夏娃本要做的,是基於信神而服從神,而不是基於撒旦所承諾的知識。他們追求被禁的知識而導致全人類陷入困境。

這情況在今天仍然發生,撒旦仍煽動人的自我和好奇心。神已在基督裡賜給我們真理,但撒旦卻企圖透過誘使我們尋求基督和聖經啟示以外的知識,將我們的焦點轉離真理和基督。經文一遍又一遍地警告基督徒不要追求被禁止的知識:

4:6 弟兄姐妹們,為你們的緣故,我將這些事應用在自己和亞波羅的身上,叫你們效法我們,「不可過於聖經所記」,免得你們自高自大,看重這個,看輕那個。 (哥林多前書4:6)

6:20 提摩太啊!你要保守所託付你的。避開褻瀆的閒言,和那無稽的所謂「學問」!6:21 已經有人自稱有這學問,偏離了真道。願恩惠常與你們同在!(提摩太前書6:20-21) 8

(7) 撒旦甚至在信徒中工作,使他們離開真理和煽動他們成為虛假的。(參馬太福音24:24; 使徒行傳20: 29-30; 5:1-11)。

撒旦成功的關鍵

撒旦敵擋真理,到底他怎能蒙混過關呢?當我閱讀創世記第3章人的墮落時,我不禁猛然一驚,撒旦竟能說服亞當和夏娃神是騙子,而他說的卻是真話!一條蛇竟能說服牠的看守者那創造萬物的創造主說謊,也不值得他們順服!讓我嘗試解構撒旦為何如此有效地敵擋真理。

(1) 在整本聖經中,撒旦的欺哄手段都和傲慢和教條主義緊密相關,他以這方式提出他的謬誤。我用了很長的時間才識別出這關連,我經常見到它,而現在我已經有所警惕。我向自己詢問,為甚麼亞當和夏娃寧可相信一條蛇而不信神呢?按創世記第三章撒旦試探始祖和他們墮落的描述,我們可以看到他以傲慢無恥的態度來試探這對夫婦,他竟敢駁斥神,並告訴夏娃神所說的並不真確,他暗示神是騙子而他卻不是。

在約伯記首兩章,撒旦以同樣囂張氣焰的語氣來回應神。在兩卷福音書關於撒旦試探我們的主的記載,他勸告我們的主要獨立於神,並且聲稱他擁有地上萬國,他愛給誰就給誰。他竟敢在神的兒子面前引用經文,並告訴祂如何應用在祂的生命和事工上,他並且膽敢要求耶穌向他下拜、敬拜他!他是那麼傲慢、那麼自信,就是今天,我們也會傾向相信他所說的是真理,賜予萬國的權柄屬他。

那些假教師可能發出傲慢天使的語言,也可能和撒旦較量。「特別是那些放縱肉慾、輕慢權柄的。他們膽大任性,毫不畏懼毀謗那尊貴的。」(彼得後書2:10)這正是教條主義導致許多人聽從了假師傅所傳播的不實之辭,有些被鑑定為「魔鬼的教條」:

2:17 我們不像那許多人,為利販賣 神的道,而是出於真誠,出於神的差遣,在 神面前藉着基督講道。(哥林多後書 2:17)

1:6 有人偏離這些,轉向空洞的議論。1:7 他們想作律法的教師,卻不明白自己所講說的,所肯定的,所堅持的事。(提摩太前書 1:6-7)

2:1 但是從前在百姓中有假先知起來,將來在你們中間也必有假師傅,將秘密引進導致滅亡的異端,甚至連買他們的主也不承認,帶來速速的滅亡。2:2 將有許多人隨從他們邪淫的行為,便叫真道因他們的緣故被毀謗。……2:10 特別是那些放縱肉慾、輕慢權柄的。他們膽大任性,毫不畏懼毀謗那尊貴的;2:11 即使是天使,雖然力量權能更大,也不用毀謗的話在主面前告他們。2:12 但這些人好像沒有理性的畜類、憑本能的動物,生來就是為被捉拿宰殺的;他們不知道自己所毀謗的,後果是敗壞人的時候,自己必遭遇敗壞;(彼得後書 2:1-2, 10-12) 9

有些時候,撒旦竟冒充「基督」:

24:23 那時,若有人對你們說『基督在這裏』,或說『基督在那裏』,你們不要相信。24:24 因為假基督和假先知將要出現,大顯神蹟和奇事欺騙人,甚至選民也可能被騙。(馬太福音 24:23-24).

(2) 撒旦向我們的罪性和叛逆本質發出引誘,他為我們提供一些我們寧可相信的謊言而不相信真理。在羅馬書第一章,保羅論及人的罪,他說人選擇「用虛謊取代了神的真理」(新譯本)(參羅馬書1:18-25,特別是第25節)。假教師為「不敬虔」的人提供更佳藉口,和更具說服力的「謊言」來取代真理:

當他坐在審判席的時候,彼拉多的夫人打發人來說:「不要管這無辜人的事,因為我今天在夢中,為他受了許多的苦。」(馬太福音 27:19)

假教師不會將他們的謬誤教導強加在他人身上,他們只是巧妙地調整他們的教導,為人提供他們寧可相信的謊言。撒旦能夠成功是因為墮落的人希望得到他所提供的。

(3) 撒旦透過弱者的弱點捕獲他們。撒旦以那些充滿罪疚感的人為首要目標。

3:6 那竄進人家,籠絡不智婦女的,正是這等人。這些婦女擔負重罪,被各樣的私慾牽引,3:7 雖常常學習,卻永不能明白真道。(提摩太後書3:6-7)

(4) 撒旦提供吸引人肉慾的信息來增強他的效率。撒旦那糟糕的虛謊不實教導,並沒有非凡的智慧。那驅使聽者接受的原因是因為這些教導為不敬虔和自我放縱的人提供理論基礎:

2:18 他們大言不慚,說空洞的話,用肉身的情慾和邪淫的事引誘那些剛脫離妄行的人;2:19 他們應許人得以自由,自己卻作了敗壞的奴僕,因為人被誰制伏就是誰的奴僕。(彼得後書 2:18-19)

(5) 撒旦利用不同的方法吸引人的肉慾來增強他的效率。不論是撒旦提供的信息或他使用的方法,都以說服力為基礎,吸引墮落和充滿慾望的人,並不是倚靠真理的力量。讓我們看看保羅教導真理的方法和那些假師傅如「麥迪遜大道」不費氣力的推銷術之間的分別:

1:17 基督差遣我不是為了施洗,乃是為了傳福音,不是用花言巧語,免得基督的十字架成為空談。(哥林多前書1:17)

2:1 弟兄姐妹們,從前我到你們那裏去,並沒有用高言大智對你們 見證神。2:2 因為我曾定了主意,在你們中間不關心別的,只關心耶穌基督,並他被釘十字架。2:3 我在你們那裏時又軟弱,又懼怕,又甚戰兢。2:4 我說的話和講的道,不是用智慧勸服的言語,卻是引證了聖靈和大能,2:5 叫你們的信不在乎人的智慧,只在乎 神的大能。(哥林多前書2:1-5)

3:14 若人建造的工程經得起考驗,他就要得賞賜。3:15 若人的工程被燒毀了,他就要受虧損。自己可以得救,卻要像從火裏經過的一樣。3:16 豈不知你們是 神的殿, 神的靈住在你們裏頭嗎?3:17 若有人毀壞 神的殿,神必要毀滅那人。因為 神的殿是聖的,這殿就是你們。(哥林多前書3:14-17)

4:1 人應當以我們為基督的僕人,為 神奧秘事的管家。4:2 所求於管家的,是要他有忠心。(哥林多前書4:1-2)

「穿上」真理

真理是寶貴的屬靈軍備,這是顯而易見的。撒旦的手段是欺詐和謊言,而真理則是我們的防禦武器。假如我們「穿上神所賜的全副屬靈軍備」,那麼,我們不單要知到甚麼是真理;還要知道怎樣「穿上」真理。這是我們在這篇研讀的重點──為真理下定義、探討如何「穿上」真理:

彼拉多很久以前詢問:「真理是甚麼?」(約翰福音18:38)。他的話某程度上反映犬儒主義(cynicism)對能夠認識真理的否定態度。在我們這個時代,有些人認為能夠認識真理是無望的。在大選年,候選人每日都在互相質疑,我們也不禁質疑我們是否能夠知道孰真孰假。聖經保證我們能知道真理,而真理必叫我們得自由。(參約翰福音8:32

數個世紀以前,先知以賽亞描述以色列墮落的悲慘狀態。在以色列的眾多毛病中,真理極其稀有,甚至看似不存在。沒有人能把這個國家從罪中拯救,故此,主親自帶來真理和公義給那些信靠順服的人:

59:1 耶和華的手並非軟弱,不能拯救,耳朵非聾,不能聽見。59:2 但你們的罪行使你們與 神疏遠;你們的罪惡使他拒絕你,不聽你們的禱告。59:3 因你們的手被血沾染,你們的指頭被罪孽沾污;你們的嘴唇說謊言,你們的舌頭出惡語。59:4 無人關心公正,無人憑誠實呈案。他們都倚靠假話,說謊言;他們所懷的是壓制,所生的是罪孽。59:5 他們菢毒蛇蛋,結蜘蛛網。人吃這蛋必死,這蛋必孵出毒蛇。59:6 他們的網不能成為衣服;不能用所做的遮蓋自己。他們的行為都有罪;他們犯了殘暴的罪行。59:7 他們一心行惡,急速流無辜人的血;他們的意念都是罪孽,他們打碎毀滅。59:8 平安的路,他們不熟悉;所行的事沒有公平。他們用詭詐的方法,凡和他們交易的都不熟悉平安。

59:9 因此,救贖離我們遠,救恩不臨到我們。我們指望光亮,卻只見黑暗;等待光明,卻行在幽暗中。59:10 我們沿牆摸索,好像瞎子;我們摸索,如同無目之人,我們晌午碰撞,如在黃昏一樣;別人強壯,我們卻像死人。59:11 我們咆哮如熊,哀鳴如鴿;指望救贖,卻是沒有;指望救恩,卻遠離我們。59:12 因你曉得我們許多叛逆的行為,我們的罪作見證告我們。是的,我們曉得自己的悖逆,非常清楚自己的罪。59:13 我們悖逆又想欺騙;轉去不跟從我們的 神。我們攪起欺壓和叛逆;心懷謊念,口裏說出。59:14 公平被推走,神性站在遠處。是的,誠實在街上碰撞,道德根本不得進入。59:15 誠實消失,想離惡的人被搶劫。那時,耶和華因看見沒有公平,甚不喜悅。

59:16 他見無人代言,無人干預,甚為驚動。就親自動手,他對公平的願望催迫著他。59:17 他以公義的意願為鎧甲(註:或作「護心鏡」),以拯救的心願為頭盔。他以報仇為衣服,以熱心為外袍。59:18 他必按人的行為施報,分發惱怒的審判給他的對頭,懲罸他的仇敵,向眾海岸施行報應。59:19 西方的人必敬重耶和華的名;東方的人也必認出他的榮美。因為他來好像急流的河水,被耶和華差派之風驅動。59:20「必有一位保護者來到錫安,到雅各族中從悖逆行為悔攺的人那裏。」這是耶和華說的。59:21 耶和華說:「至於我,我對他們的應許是這樣:從今以後,我加給你的靈,傳給你的話,必不離你的口,也不離你後裔與你後裔之後裔的口。」這是耶和華說的。(以賽亞書 59:1-21)

沒有人會質疑保羅那基督徒軍備的意象是出於以賽亞書(參以賽亞書11:5)。當基督把墮落的人從罪中拯救出來時,祂自己也穿上了這些軍備。從羅馬書第13章我們認識到「穿上我們的軍備」就是「披戴基督」:

13:11 我們這樣行,因為曉得現今就是早該睡醒的時候,因為我們的得救比初信的時候更近了。13:12 黑夜已深,白晝將近。我們就當放下暗昧的行為,帶上光的兵器;13:13 行事為人要端正,好像行在白晝。不可荒宴醉酒,不可好色邪蕩,不可爭競嫉妒。13:14 反要披戴主耶穌基督,不要為肉體安排去惹動私慾。(羅馬書 13:11-14)

神是「真理的神」,祂不能說謊(參詩篇31:5以賽亞書65:16;提多書1:2)。祂差遣自己的兒子來到世上,一次就完成了將祂的真理傳給人(參希伯來書1:1-2; 2:1-4)。主耶穌來臨不單傳遞神的真理(參約翰福音8:40),祂就是真理,那叫人得自由的真理:

1:14 道成了肉身,住在我們中間,充充滿滿的有恩典有真理。我們見過他的榮光,正是父獨生子的榮光。1:15 約翰為他作見證,喊着說:「這就是我曾說『那在我以後來的,要比我更大的,因為在我之先,他已經存在了』的那一位。」1:16 我們都從他的豐滿領受了恩典,而且恩上加恩。1:17 律法是藉着摩西傳的,但恩典和真理是藉耶穌基督來的。1:18 從來沒有人見過 神,只有與父最親近的獨生子將 神表明出來。(約翰福音 1:14-18)

耶穌說:「我就是道路、真理、生命;若不藉着我,沒有人能到父那裏去。」 (約翰福音14:6)

……你們必曉得真理,真理必叫你們得以自由。」 (約翰福音8:32)

真理是:耶穌就是神所應許的彌賽亞,祂是神的羔羊,被派遣來到世上除去世人的罪孽(約翰福音1:29);祂在各各他為我們的罪背負刑罰而被釘十字架,被埋葬,從死裡復活,證明神悅納祂的救贖。透過相信耶穌,人不單得救,並且得到真理。就如保羅的教導:「你們學的基督,卻不是這樣,如果你們真的聽過他,在他裏面受教,學了裏面的真理」(以弗所書4:20-21

祂是真理,祂把「真理的聖靈」差來(約翰福音15:26; 16:13),並賜給我們聖經,那就是「真理的道」(哥林多後書6:7提摩太後書2:15雅各書1:18),因此我們能認識全部的真理;那是生命和敬虔不能或缺的(彼得後書1:3-4;另參提摩太後書3:14-17)。

穿上真理的起始點是相信主耶穌基督,因祂是真理。由這起點,我們踏上那終身的成聖天路;真理使我們成聖(約翰福音17:17, 19)。成聖是當我們脫去從前行為上的舊人,透過神的話語幫助,我們就會產生心意更新而變化(以弗所書4:17-24羅馬書12:1-2);在真理的薰陶下,基督徒放棄虛謊,用愛心說誠實話(以弗所書4:15, 25, 29);這也包括保守我們的意念,不受任何不正確的影響(腓立比書4:8),並避免各種形式的「知識」把我們擄去,轉離基督(歌羅西書第2章)。這意味著我們不再說三道四,不傳流言蜚語、不作無謂猜測、不倚靠神話和人的傳統而轉向基督和祂的話語,這代表我們要按世界的實況認清楚這個世界(箴言)。我們不單是作出表白,而要遵行真理(希伯來書5:11-14約翰壹書2:4; 約翰二書1:1-4)。那就是擁抱聖經那明確和強調的啟示;而那些純粹來自人的「真理」卻要遲疑。這是說我們要自己學習真理,而不應倚靠別人告訴我們甚麼是真理(使徒行傳17:10等;約翰壹書2:26-27)。

數個世紀以前,先知阿摩司曾預言饑荒:

8:11 主耶和華說:「日子將到,我必命饑荒降在地上我不是說水和餅的短缺,而是聖啟示的終結。 (阿摩司書 8:11)

我恐怕我們是活在大饑荒中,並不是因為我們無法接觸聖經,而是我們被禁止閱讀它;並不是沒有好的書和輔助工具,而是欠缺一顆愛真理的心,那根源是不愛主自己。讓我們穿上真理作為我們軍備;議我們像大衛一般渴望透過神的話語更深地認識神(詩篇119);讓我們日夜都思想祂的真理;讓我們的禱告符合祂的真理;讓我們行在真理中,為神帶來榮耀,也為我們的益處。

譯者註:除特別標示的地方,中文經文採用NET(中文版)

Translated by: Jenny Pao 鮑婉玲譯


1另參列王紀上18:46; 列王紀下4:29; 9:7; 約伯記40:7; 耶利米書1:17; 以賽亞書45:1.

2另參哥林多後書10:5-6; 11:3; 加拉太書1:6-9.

3另參馬太福音 4:1-11; 路加福音4:1-13; 以弗所書6:14.

4另參使徒行傳13:6-12; 比較帖撒羅尼迦後書 2:7-12.

5 我的一位朋友向我指出,撒旦撒播「獨身」和「禁止食用某些食物」的方法十分巧妙。對那些未傾向過屬靈生活的,撒旦採取不同的策略欺哄他們。在我們這個愈來愈不敬虔的文化,人們已傾向結婚不可取,而「同居」是「較佳的方法」。有些食物被禁止食用,並非因神稱那些是不潔的食物,而是為了環保或動物的權益。撒旦恨不得讓我們「按我們的方式而行」,只要最終我們的思維和行動按他而行。

6 另參羅馬書 5:18–6:14;彼得後書 2:18-19.

7另參馬可福音4:24-25;雅各書 1:21-27; 2:14-26; 約翰二書1:1-4.

8另參提摩太前書1:6-7; 6:3-5;提多書3:9;提摩太後書4:4;啟示錄2:24.

9另參彼得後書 2:18; 3:3-4; 約翰壹書 2:26-27.

Related Topics: Spiritual Life

第 29 課: 屬靈爭戰的武器 — 士兵的鞋子 (以弗所書 6:15)

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6:14 所以要站穩了,用真理當作帶子束腰,用公義當作護胸甲遮胸;6:15 用平安的福音當作鞋子穿在腳上;6:16 此外又拿着信心的盾牌,用以滅盡那惡者一切的火箭;6:17 並戴上救恩的頭盔;拿着聖靈的寶劍,就是 神的道。6:18 在聖靈裏,隨時多方禱告祈求,並要為此儆醒恆守,為眾聖徒祈求。

引言

“Roll Freddy Roll” 是我看過最有趣的電影。蒂姆康威(Tim Conway)飾演「弗雷迪」(Freddy),這位父親為了取悅兒子,他希望名字能記錄在健力士紀錄大全。經過一連串事件,在他的努力下,他創下了逗留在滾軸溜冰鞋上最長時間的世界紀錄,這意味他不論做甚麼事情,弗雷迪都需要在滾軸溜冰鞋上進行。

趣事的序幕,從弗雷迪穿上了他的滾軸溜冰鞋來駕駛他那部大眾甲殼虫(Volkswagen beetle)開始。他的腳和油門踏板纏在一起,導致他超速駕駛。這個時候,剛巧一名第一天值班的警員駛過,要使弗雷迪靠路邊把車停下來便己很費力氣,接著警員要求弗雷迪下車,並且堅持要他「靠在車上」給他搜查。不過,弗雷迪無法在穿上滾軸溜冰鞋的情況下靠在車上,他和那警員都掉在地上。過了一段很短的時間,弗雷迪參加朋友的喪禮,他是其中一位扶靈的至親好友,把棺材送上柩車要走上好些路,途中,弗雷迪失足,他拼命地抱住棺材,並造成很大的騷動。

因為弗雷迪被限制在滾軸溜冰鞋上,他才開始體會到能夠平穩用雙足在地上站穩是祝福。若是站在滾軸溜冰鞋上發動戰爭,我們都能想象得到那情況。當描述「穿著合宜的士兵」時,保羅形容參與屬靈爭戰時最理想的鞋,基督精兵所穿最好的鞋是「平安的福音」。這是第15節和這一課的主題。

NET中文譯本的翻譯: 「所以要站穩了,用真理當作帶子束腰,用公義當作護胸甲遮胸;用平安福音當作鞋子穿在腳上。」(以弗所書 6:14-15)。讓我們傾聽這些話,因為他們是關於全副裝備,這裝備能確保我們得勝;若沒有它,我們無法在撒旦的詭計下站穩。

平安的福音

在這段經文,保羅並沒有為平安下定義,這顯示他預期我們已從別的經文明白甚麼是平安。故此,我們在這裡的方針,是從創世記至啟示錄追溯「平安」這主題,然後再看保羅在不同的書信中,包括以弗所書前面數章,再聚焦保羅怎樣理解平安。我們以這樣得出平安的定義,應用在我們研讀的經文,看看如何應用在我們的屬靈爭戰中。

在舊約中的平安

在舊約創世記中,我們讀到約瑟的兄弟把自己的兄弟賣作奴隸。隨後因著饑荒,他們要到埃及購買糧食,他們到了約瑟的家,但他們不知道那就是他們所出賣的兄弟的家,我們暫且把這因素放在一旁。他們感到害怕,因為他們相信那人是藉故殷勤,而他一定會傷害他們(參創世記43:18)。當約瑟的家宰看到他們感到害怕,便對他們說:「你們可以放心[原文字義是願你們平安],不要害怕,是你們的神和你們父親的神賜給你們財寶在你們的袋子裡,你們的銀子我早已收了。」(創世記43:23)。安慰只從那位真神、那位以色列的神而來。這位埃及家宰和他們談及他們的神(可能是約瑟吩咐他的),並告訴他們,他們袋裡的銀子,是他們的神給他們的祝福。故此,他們應感恩和感到平安,而不是感到困擾和恐懼

不論在甚麼時候,當以色列人要出戰,他們不會感到恐懼或驚慌,他們深深感到平安的根源,是神與他們同在,並且會賜給他們勝利:

20:1 你出去與仇敵爭戰的時候,看見馬匹、車輛,並有比你多的人民,不要怕他們,因為領你出埃及地的耶和華你 神與你同在。20:2 你們將要上陣的時候,祭司要到百姓面前宣告說:20:3「以色列人哪,你們當聽:你們今日將要與仇敵爭戰,不要膽怯,不要懼怕戰兢,也不要因他們驚恐,20:4 因為耶和華你們的 神與你們同去,要為你們與仇敵爭戰,拯救你們。」(申命記20:1-4) 1

當神命令基甸帶領以色列的軍隊抵禦米甸的襲擊,祂知道基甸仍然缺乏信心和勇氣,因此祂給基甸一個經歷,給他在爭戰中所需要的平安:

7:9 當那夜,耶和華吩咐基甸說:「起來,下到米甸營裏去,因我已將他們交在你手中。7:10 倘若你怕下去,就帶你的僕人普拉下到那營裏去。7:11 你必聽見他們所說的,然後你就有膽量下去攻營。」於是,基甸帶着僕人普拉下到營旁。7:12 米甸人、亞瑪力人和一切東方人都布散在平原,如同蝗蟲那樣多。他們的駱駝無數,多如海邊的沙。7:13 基甸到了,就聽見一人將夢告訴同伴說:「我做了一夢,夢見一個大麥餅滾入米甸營中,到了帳幕,將帳幕撞倒,帳幕就翻轉傾覆了。」7:14 那同伴說:「這不是別的,乃是以色列人約阿施的兒子基甸的刀。 神已將米甸和全軍都交在他的手中。」基甸大敗仇敵 7:15 基甸聽見這夢和夢的講解,就敬拜 神,回到以色列營中說:「起來吧!耶和華已將米甸的軍隊交在你們手中了。」(士師記7:9-15) 2

神答允賜給以色列入的平安是有條件的。當他們相信神並且遵守祂的話語(特別是遵守律法),他們就有所應許的平安。如果他們不信神和撇棄祂的律法,神保證以色列人不再有平安,取而代之是恐懼與疑惑:

28:63 先前耶和華怎樣喜悅善待你們,使你們眾多,也要照樣喜悅毀滅你們,使你們滅亡,並且你們從所要進去得的地上必被拔除。28:64 耶和華必使你們分散在萬民中,從地這邊到地那邊,你必在那裏事奉你和你列祖素不認識木頭石頭的神。28:65 在那些國中,你必不得安逸,也不得落腳之地,耶和華卻使你在那裏心中跳動,眼目失明,精神消耗。28:66 你的性命必懸懸無定,你晝夜恐懼,自料性命難保。28:67 你因心裏所恐懼的,眼中所看見的,早晨必說:『巴不得到晚上才好!』晚上必說:『巴不得到早晨才好!』(申命記 28:63-67)

這是摩西在申命記第28-32章的主題,被後來的先知引用。他們確保那些叛逆神的以色列人沒有平安,所得的是神的審判:

耶和華說:「惡人必不得平安!」 (以賽亞書48:22和合本; 另參57:21)

12:12 滅命的軍隊都前進,來到曠野中的丘陵。因耶和華要用他們為刀,從地這邊直到地那邊盡行殺滅。 (耶利米書12:12; 另參7-13節)

30:5 不錯,這是祂所說的:「你聽到惶恐和懼怕的哭號;平安無處可見。 (耶利米書30:5)

與此同時,先知亦發出警告:假先知會否定神審判以色列,並且假稱平安,並保證神給子民祝福:

『他們草率地醫治我子民的損傷,說:「平安了!平安了!」其實沒有平安。』(耶利米書 6:14 新譯本) .3

平安在創世記開始便出現,但卻很快便失去了。神並非單單創造了這個世界,還有所有的植物和動物;並且創造了人類和一個園子,祂把人安放在園子裡和祂相交。在人墮落前那段日子,是何等的和平。在傍晚,神和亞當夏娃在園子裡散步,關係密切;但人的墮落使一切改變了,那平安也失去了。亞當和夏娃不是與神在園子裡散步,他們躲避神(創世記3:8);他們並以他們被造時那赤裸為恥,並試圖遮蔽(創世記3:7)。整個創造都被拋進混亂中(參羅馬書8:18-23)。平安被棄的原因是亞當和夏娃不完全相信神和不肯守神給他們唯一的命令。

創世記第三章描述了人的墮落,神不僅道出罪的後果,並且也表明了終極的醫治,一個重新帶來平安的醫治。就如罪因一人進入世界,一位救主將人從罪中拯救出來:

3:15 我又要叫你和女人彼此為仇,你的後裔和女人的後裔也彼此為仇。女人的後裔要擊打你的頭,你要擊打她後裔的腳跟。」(創世記 3:15).

這話誠然為人帶來希望,同時亦是撒旦的厄運。這話是對撒旦說的,他的國度要被女人的後裔擊破。彌賽亞撥亂返正,為人類帶來救恩,恢復創造秩序,用平安取代紛爭和混亂。

過了幾章經文,我們便被給予進一步關於那將要來的彌賽亞的提示。在創世記12:1-3,神給予亞伯拉罕應許--亞伯拉罕之約;並且在整本書中不斷向他和他的後裔重複這應許要透過他的「後裔」(參加拉太書3:15-16),那將要來的彌賽亞、給全世界祝福。創世記第14給一位神秘的王麥基洗德作了一個簡短的介紹,他是那要來的彌賽亞的預表,希伯來書的作者指出一個事實:

14:18 又有撒冷王麥基洗德,帶著餅和酒,出來迎接。(他是至高 神的祭司。)14:19 他為亞伯蘭祝福,說:「願創造天地的主,至高的 神,賜福與亞伯蘭。14:20 至高的 神把敵人交在你手裡,是配當稱頌的。」(創世記 14:18-20)

這位撒冷王麥基洗德是至高神的祭司,他在亞伯拉罕擊敗諸王回來的時候給他祝福;亞伯拉罕把戰利品的十分之一獻給他。他的名字翻譯出來,頭一個意思就是「公義的王」;其次是「撒冷王」,就是「平安的王」的意思。他沒有父親,沒有母親,沒有族譜,也沒有生死的記錄,而是與神的兒子相似,永遠作祭司。(希伯來書7:1-3 新譯本)

隨著舊約聖經不斷地揭示彌賽亞降臨的應許,舊約時代的聖徒漸漸清晰地看到永恆的「平安」只有透過彌賽亞才會來臨。只是怎樣得享這「平安」仍是一個秘密;這並非因為沒有啟示,而是關於彌賽亞降臨的不同啟示中有不協調的地方。

一方面,彌賽亞是以凱旋的軍王降臨,他坐在大衛的寶座上,他會打敗他的敵人,並建立應許的國度。

9:4 因為他們所負的重軛,打肩頭的杖,欺壓他們人的短棍,你都已經折斷,好像在米甸的日子一樣。9:5 戰士每一雙震地的戰靴,滾在血中的戰袍,都必當作柴燒。9:6 因有一嬰孩為我們而生,有一子賜給我們。政權必擔在他的肩頭上。他名稱為「奇妙的策士」、「全能的 神」、「永在的父」、「和平的君」!(以賽亞書 9:4-6)

而另一方面,彌賽亞卻因世人的罪而受苦,透過受苦帶來「平安」:

53:4 但他擔當我們的病患,背負我們的痛苦;我們卻以為他受責罰,被 神因他所行的擊打苦待了。53:5 哪知他為我們的悖逆受害;為我們的罪孽壓傷。因他受的刑罰,我們得平安;因他受的創傷,我們得醫治。53:6 我們都如羊走迷;各人偏離己路,但耶和華使我們眾人的罪孽都歸在他身上。(以賽亞書53:4-6)

舊約結束,先知們仍感到迷網,神如何透過一位既要受苦、又是榮耀的彌賽亞帶來「平安」:

1:10 論到這救恩,那預告你們要得恩典的眾先知,早已詳細的尋求考察;1:11 他們藉着心裏基督的靈引導,預先探討基督受苦難、後來得榮耀,要應驗在誰的身上,並怎樣的時候應驗。(彼得前書1:10-11)

只有這些預言的應驗解開了謎團。

在新約中的「平安」

當主耶穌降世,祂是一位完美的神,同時是一個完美的人時,祂被確定了祂就是帶來「平安」的那位。撒迦利亞曾說及基督的出現和那要來的平安,他的兒子約翰作先鋒,宣告主的來臨:

1:76 孩子啊,你要稱為至高者的先知;因為你要行在主的前面,預備他的道路,1:77 叫他的百姓,藉罪蒙赦免,得知救恩。1:78 因我們 神的溫柔憐憫,叫清晨的日光從高天臨到我們,1:79 要照亮坐在黑暗中死蔭裏的人,把我們的腳引到平安的路上。」(路加福音1:76-79)

在祂出生時,天使因祂帶給世人平安而讚美神:

1:14 歡喜快樂必臨到你,有許多人因他出世,也必喜樂。 (路加福音1:14).

年老的西面望著嬰孩耶穌,他說出他的平安,那平安能助他快樂地面對他的死亡:

2:25 在耶路撒冷有一個人名叫西面,又公義又虔誠的人,素常盼望以色列得蒙救贖,聖靈又在他身上。2:26 他得了聖靈的啟示,知道自己未死以前,必看見主所立的基督。2:27 他受了聖靈的指引,進入殿院,當耶穌的父母抱着孩子進來,要照律法的規矩辦事,2:28 西面就用手接過他來,稱頌 神說:2:29「全權的主啊,如今可以照你的話,釋放僕人安然離世了。2:30 因為我的眼睛已經看見你的救恩,2:31 就是你在萬民面前所預備的:2:32 光,是外邦人的啟示,又是你民以色列的榮耀。」(路加福音2:25-32)

耶穌在地上的事奉,祂給人平安的話。一個婦人偷偷的摸了耶穌的衣服,「盜取」了一個神蹟,她恐懼戰兢來到耶穌跟前,耶穌知她所做的事,耶穌怎樣作呢?

5:32 耶穌周圍觀看,要找出作這事的人。5:33 那女人知道在自己身上所發生的事,就恐懼戰兢的來俯伏在耶穌跟前,將實情全告訴他。5:34 耶穌對他說:「女兒,你的信救了你,平平安安的回去吧!你的病痊癒了。」(馬可福音 5:32-34)

在祂被捕、面對審問和被釘十字架以前,祂給門徒留下平安的話:

14:27「我留下平安給你們,我將我的平安賜給你們;我所賜的,不像世人所賜的。你們不要心裏憂傷,也不要害怕。14:28 你們聽見我對你們說過:『我要去,還要到你們這裏來。』你們若愛我,就要因我到父那裏去而喜樂,因為父是比我大的。14:29 現在事情還沒有實現,我預先告訴你們,到事情實現的時候,你們就可以信。14:30 我沒有時間和你們多說話,因為這世界的王將到。他沒有能力勝過我,14:31 但為要叫世人知道我愛父,父怎樣吩咐我,我就怎樣行。起來,我們走吧。」 (約翰福音14:27-31)

16:32 看哪!時候將到,現在就是了,你們將要分散,各自歸家,只留下我獨自一人;然而我不是獨自一人,因為有父與我同在。16:33 我將這些事告訴你們,是要叫你們在我裏面有平安。在世上你們有苦難;但你們可以放心,我已經勝了世界。」(約翰福音16:32-33)

在耶穌死後,門徒躲在一間樓房內,他們懼怕那些猶太宗教領袖將要怎麼樣對付他們。當耶穌向這群受驚的人顯現時,祂給他們平安的話:

20:19 當日(就是七日的第一日)晚上,門徒聚集在一起,因怕猶太人的領袖,把門都鎖上了。耶穌來站在他們當中,對他們說:「願你們平安!」20:20 說了這話,就把手和肋旁給他們看。門徒看見主,就喜樂了。20:21 耶穌又對他們說:「願你們平安!父怎樣差遣了我,我也照樣差遣你們。」20:22 說了這話,就向他們吹一口氣,說:「你們受聖靈。20:23 你們赦免誰的罪,誰的罪就赦免了;你們留下誰的罪,誰的罪就留下了。」(約翰福音 20:19-23) 4

五旬節後,門徒開始傳福音。路加稱他們「傳從耶穌而來的平安」:

10:34 彼得就開口說:「我真看出 神是不偏待人,10:35 原來各國中,那敬畏主行義的人,都為主所悅納。10:36 神藉着耶穌基督(他是萬有的主)傳平安的福音,將這信息賜給以色列人。10:37 這話在約翰宣傳洗禮以後,從加利利起,傳遍了猶太;10:38 神怎樣以聖靈和能力膏拿撒勒人耶穌,這都是你們知道的。他周遊四方行善事,醫好凡被魔鬼壓制的人,因為 神與他同在。(使徒行傳 10:34-38)

彼得在他的書信中繼續表達平安是值得追求的:

3:10 因為經上說:「人若愛生命,願享美福,須要禁止舌頭不出惡言,嘴唇不說詭詐的話。3:11 也要離惡行善,尋求和睦,一心追趕。3:12 因為主的眼看顧義人,主的耳聽他們的祈禱;惟有行惡的人,主向他們變臉。」 (彼得前書3:10-12)

你們彼此要用愛親嘴問安。願平安歸與你們凡在基督裏的人。 (彼得前書 5:14)

彼得在他最後的一封書信,極力勸勉他的讀者要能安然見主,不要被假教師傅的教導誘惑而沉淪:

3:14 親愛的弟兄啊!你們既等候這些事,就當努力,使自己沒有玷污,無可指摘,安然見主。3:15 以我主的忍耐為救贖,就如我們所親愛的弟兄保羅,照着所賜給他的智慧,寫信給你們;3:16 在他一切的信上,也都是講論這些事。信中有些難明白的,那無知、不堅定的人曲解了,如曲解別的經文一樣,就導致自己的沉淪。3:17 親愛的弟兄啊!你們既然預先受了警惕,就當防備,恐怕被惡人的錯謬誘惑,就從自己的堅固上墜落。3:18 你們卻要在我們主和救主耶穌基督的恩典和知識上有長進。願榮耀歸給他,從今直到永遠!阿們。(彼得後書3:14-18) 5

在保羅著作中的平安

使徒保羅明白和曾經歷神的平安,他在書信開首祝願收信人平安,有時在結語也有平安的祝頌語:

1:3 願恩惠、平安,從 神我們的父,並主耶穌基督,歸與你們!(哥林多前書1:3)

6:23 願平安、愛、信,從父 神和主耶穌基督,歸與弟兄姐妹們。 (以弗所書6:23)

保羅使用行善和作惡的人的結局作對比,指出公義的果子是平安;而作惡的後果是磨難與痛苦:

2:4 還是你藐視他豐富的恩慈、寬容和忍耐,而不曉得他的恩慈是領你悔改呢?2:5你竟任着你頑梗不悔改的心,為自己積蓄忿怒,直到 神震怒的日子,顯他公義的審判。2:6 他必照各人的行為報應各人:2:7 凡恆心作善工,尋求榮耀、尊貴和不能朽壞的,就賞以永生;2:8 但是放縱私慾,不順從真理,反順從不義的,就報以烈怒。2:9 將有患難和困苦加給一切作惡的人,先是猶太人,後是希臘人;2:10 卻將榮耀、尊貴和平安加給一切有善行的人,先是猶太人,後是希臘人。(羅馬書2:4-10)

他說平安是因信基督又得到救恩所產生的結果:

5:1我們既因信稱義,就藉着我們的主耶穌基督得與 神相和。5:2 我們又藉着他,因信得進入現在所站的這恩典中,並且歡歡喜喜盼望 神的榮耀。(羅馬書5:1-2)

他還談到平安是聖靈所結的果子:

8:5 因為以肉體而活的人有肉體的想法;以聖靈而活的人有聖靈的想法。8:6 有肉體想法的就是死,有聖靈想法的乃是生命和平安,8:7 因為有肉體想法的就是與 神為敵,原因是不服從 神的律法,也無力服從。8:8 而且在肉體裏的人不能得 神的喜歡。(羅馬書8:5-8) 6

對保羅來說,平安是基本要素,並非偶發性的。追求平安在基督徒的生命中應該有優先的位置,追求平安可以避免不必要的絆跌、分歧與紛爭;也規管參與教會聚會的方式:

14:16 不可叫你看為善的被人看為惡,14:17 因為 神的國,不在乎吃喝,只在乎公義、和平,並聖靈中的喜樂。14:18 這樣服事基督的,就為 神所喜悅,又為人所稱許。14:19 所以我們務要追求和睦的事,彼此建立。(羅馬書 14:16-19)

倘若那不信的人要離婚,就由他吧。無論是弟兄或是姐妹遇着這樣的事,都不必受約束。 神召我們原是要我們和睦。(哥林多前書7:15)

14:33 因為 神不是叫人混亂,乃是叫人安靜。在聖徒的眾教會裏,(哥林多前書14:33)

13:11 最後,願弟兄姐妹們都喜樂,改正,要受勉勵,要同心合意,要彼此和睦。如此,仁愛、和平的 神必常與你們同在。(哥林多後書13:11)

3:15又要叫基督的平安在你們心裏作主(你們蒙召,歸為一體,進入這平安),且要常存感謝的心。(歌羅西書 3:15)

2:22你要逃避少年的私慾,同那清心求告主的人追求公義、忠信、仁愛、和平。(提摩太後書2:22)

當基督徒在生活中遇到逼迫、逆境和苦難時,他或她在這種處境中應仍經歷神的平安。因此保羅譴責焦慮並讚揚平安:

4:6 應當一無掛慮,凡事只要藉着禱告、祈求,和感謝,將你們所要的告訴 神。4:7 神所賜超人理解的平安,必在基督耶穌裏,保守你們的心懷意念。4:8 最後,弟兄姐妹們,凡是真實的、可敬的、公義的、純潔的、可愛的、值得表揚的、上好的,或是可稱讚的,這些事你們都要思念。4:9 你們在我身上所學習的、所領受的、所聽見的、所看見的,這些事你們都要去行。平安的 神就必與你們同在。(腓立比書4:6-9)

3:16 願賜平安的主,隨時隨事親自給你們平安。願主常與你們眾人同在。 (帖撒羅尼迦後書3:16)

保羅也談及非信徒錯誤以為可得安慰,他們所得的是假平安和假保障,他們的厄運和毀滅的日子就在眼前:

5:3 人正說「平安穩妥」的時候,毀滅忽然臨到他們,如同產難臨到一個懷胎的婦人一樣,他們絕不能逃脫。(帖撒羅尼迦前書5:3)

以弗所書所述的平安

保羅在以弗所書,以平安來開始和作結語:

1:2 願恩惠、平安,從 神我們的父,和主耶穌基督歸與你們! (以弗所書1:2)

6:23 願平安、愛、信,從父 神和主耶穌基督,歸與弟兄姐妹們。(以弗所書6:23)

不管你翻到這書的那一個篇幅,你都會找到和平安相關的教導或勸勉。這卷書的任何一章,也許是直接、或是間接,都不會不處理平安這課題。

以弗所書第一章,保羅一開始便以平安作為問安語(1:2)。接著,他叫讀者留意神的旨意和永恆計劃,那就是一切在基督裡同歸於一(1:10)。神揀選我們在祂面前成為聖潔是這計劃的一部份(1:4)。我們的終極,取決於那永恆的過去,我們在基督裡的應許有聖靈的印記1:13;而永恆的未來安於神的計劃和在基督裡。

我們能夠肯定救恩,就如我們肯定神的大能可以成就祂的旨意。保羅在15-23節禱告的焦點,是我們能抓緊我們能肯定那將來盼望的實在。他禱告我們得到神的啟迪,我們能抓緊祂的呼召所帶來的盼望,聖徒得到成為祂的繼承人的至高榮耀和神在永恆的過去成全祂的旨意那大能。這大能在基督的復活和高升超過其他地上和天上的權勢,明顯地表達出來;天使和撒旦與及他的黨羽都在基督的權能下。

2充滿和我們平安相關的保證。在這章裡,保羅述說了兩種平安,平安是從基督的死亡、埋葬和復活而來,這平安首先是「與神和好」,其次是「與人和好」。

在以弗所書第二章的開端告訴我們,藉著基督的十字架,我們現在才能與神和好。當我們還作不信的人,我們在不知不覺中成為撒旦的僕役,我們以前「死在罪惡和過犯中」,不單「隨從今世的風俗」,而且「順服空中掌權者的首領」(以弗所書2:1-2)。我們過往並非按著聖靈的引領而活(5:18),但隨着肉體和心中所喜好的去行(2:3)。

那時,我們「與基督分離」(2:12),甚至與基督為敵。我們與神的祝福無份,沒有指望:

2:13但你們從前遠離 神的人,如今卻在基督耶穌裏,已經被他的血帶近了。(以弗所書 2:13)

所有遠離神的人,都因為耶穌基督在各各他所成就的救恩而改變了:

2:13但你們從前遠離 神的人,如今卻在基督耶穌裏,已經被他的血帶近了。2:14 他是我們的和睦,將兩下合而為一,拆毀了中間隔斷的牆,彼此的寃仇,2:15 就是當他在肉體中廢掉那記在律法上的規條的時候。又將兩下藉着自己造成一個新人,如此便成就了和睦2:16 他既在十字架上為這寃仇受害,便藉這十字架使兩下歸為一體,與 神和好了;2:17他並且來傳和平給你們遠處的人,也傳給那近處的人,2:18 以致我們兩下藉着聖靈進到父面前。2:19 這樣,你們不再作外人和客旅,而是與聖徒同國,是 神家裏的人了;2:20 因為你們已被建造在使徒和先知的根基上,有基督耶穌自己作為房角石352:21 全屋靠他聯繫作準則,漸漸長成為主的聖殿;2:22 你們也靠他同被建造,成為 神藉着聖靈居住的所在。(以弗所書 2:13-22, 重點在屬我的和矇).

基督是我們獲得平安的途徑;那平安既是與神和好、也是神的平安。基督的救贖將那因為我們的罪而在我們和神之間的障礙移除。我們不單被拉「近」祂,並且成了祂的一部份;作為信徒,我們現在是祂的身體的一部份。

主得勝而來的平安並不止此,在我們得救以前,我們是猶太人的敵人,在神和他們所立的約以外,並沒有得到祂福份的指望。我們和猶太人並無情誼,並且明顯地與他們為敵。在我們得救以前,我們不單與神為敵,我們也與猶太人為敵。那疏遠和分隔並非單方面的,猶太人對我們懷有敵意,而我們對他們同樣懷有敵意。在聖殿中有一幅「牆」,將猶太人和外邦人分隔。這牆象徵我們外邦人和他們猶太人之間的疏離與仇視。

基督在各各他的工作改變了這情況,祂把那分隔猶太人和外邦人之間的牆拆毀。祂成為我們的平安,祂將雙方在祂裡面合而為一,那信福音的,不再分為「猶太人」和「外邦人」。現在,所有信基督的人在祂裡面成為一體。祂叫我們與祂和好,成為「一個新人」。我們在祂裡面成為一體--教會,那是祂在人間的居所。

3,保羅將焦點放在苦難的另一來源--恐懼,它給撒旦立足之地、使人不安。保羅是在監獄中寫這封書信,他因信仰而遭受不公的苦難,他的被關押可能令其他聖徒驚惶失措。第三章是為了消除聖徒中可能因他的捆鎖而出現的恐懼,並且表明他的受苦是一種榮譽,也是神揭示祂的奧秘的總計劃的其中一部份,這奧秘就是把福音傳給外邦人。保羅以他的事工,包括他的被捆鎖視作一種榮譽,神施恩授予他的特權:

3:8 我本來比眾聖徒中最小的還小,然而他還賜我這恩典,叫我把基督那測不透的豐富傳給外邦人;3:9 又使眾人都明白,這歷代以來隱藏在創造萬物之 神裏,奧秘的計劃423:10 就是要藉着教會使天上執政的、掌權的,現在得知 神百般的43智慧。3:11 這是照 神從萬世以前,在我們主基督耶穌裏所成就的永恆旨意。3:12我們因着耶穌的信實,就在他裏面放膽無懼,篤信不疑的來到 神面前。3:13 所以我求你們,不要因我為你們所受的患難喪膽,這原是你們的榮耀。(以弗所書 3:8-13)

在第三章14-21節,保羅在這裡提供了信心和勇氣的進一步原由。他向天父屈膝禱告,他向「天上地上的全家,都是從祂得名」(15節)的那位禱告。從伊甸園起,誰為別的起名,便對被起名的擁有管轄的權柄。故此,神不單為祂的創造起名,也給人賜新的名字,將他們的命運改變了(參創世記17:4-7,15-16;35:9-12)。

假如天父就是那位給天上地上全家賜名的,那就是說祂擁有管轄天上眾生,包括天使的權柄(另參以弗所書1:20-22;歌羅西書1:16-18)。祂是全能的神,掌管祂創造的每一部份。因此,我們可以因為曉得祂的計劃和旨意將會成就,就算我們如基督處於受苦的過程中,都能經歷和得享平安。這些苦難將我們領到榮耀和喜悅裡,受苦也是值得的。

在第四章,在基督裡的合一和聖靈所賜予的多元恩賜,是神戰勝撒旦和他的黨羽的另一明證。聖靈所賜的禮物,不僅幫助我們成長和長至成熟,這也是第8-10節基督戰勝撒旦的證據:

4:8 所以經上說:「他升上高天的時候,囚禁了仇敵,將恩賜給人。514:9 既說升上,豈不是先降在地下52嗎?4:10 那降下的,也就是遠升諸天之上為要充滿萬有的。(以弗所書 4:8-10)

以弗所書的餘下部份,由4:17至6:9主要是處理如何維持平安。特別是神在那些在基督裡有寶貴信心的人中所成就的平安。總體而言,要保存這平安,我們要放棄未信前的思維和行事為人的方式(3:17-32);要保存平安,我們要行在愛中(5:1-7)、在光明中(5:8-14)、在智慧中(5:15-20)、在聖靈裡(5:18)和順服(5:21–6:9)。

結合所引用有關平安的經文,我們可以看到平安的樣貌;我們也可以透過甚麼不是平安而為平安下定義。平安和下面的情況恰恰相反:恐懼、怯懦、恐慌、擔心戰慄、絕望、懷疑、畏懼、焦慮和煩躁不安。平安是一種內在的平靜與安寧,既自信、又清醒。從入際關係的角度,不論是和神或與其他人的關係,平安是沒有敵意和仇恨,是真正的團結與和諧。

最後我要說的,平安只從神而來。不同形式的假「平安」,或許在片時能夠製造出和真平安相似的果效,但它們卻是短暫的和站不住腳的。神是平安的唯一來源,唯獨祂透過基督在各各他的十字架,扭轉和糾正了伊甸園人類墮落的問題,在基督裡移除了神和罪人之間的障礙,並且在相信的人當中帶來和諧,不管他們是甚麼種族、性別或身份。

平安和屬靈爭戰

初看起來,平安和屬靈爭戰是兩碼子的事情,一個人怎能在爭戰時,卻又是「平安」呢?我相信聖經的教導是:一個人若沒有平安,就不能爭戰。這告訴我們為甚麼平安是屬靈爭戰的軍備之一。

平安並非指沒有外在的試探和苦難。平安是內在的平靜,它是我們面對外在困難時最明顯和最需要的。當以色列人要出征,有部份人是不准許參戰的:

20:5 官長也要對百姓宣告說:『誰建造房屋,尚未奉獻?他可以回家去,恐怕他陣亡,別人去奉獻。20:6 誰種葡萄園,尚未用所結的果子,他可以回家去,恐怕他陣亡,別人去用。20:7 誰聘定了妻,尚未迎娶,他可以回家去,恐怕他陣亡,別人去娶。」20:8 官長又要對百姓宣告說:「誰懼怕膽怯,他可以回家去,恐怕他弟兄的心消化,和他一樣。」(申命記20:5-8)

我相信那些得到豁免無需出征的人,是因為他們沒有作為一名士兵所需要的平安。有新房屋的人,他心裡想的是他的房子而不是那場戰事;那訂了親的,無法把未婚妻置諸腦後而令他分心;那懼怕的也會分心。故此,一個參與爭戰的人,必須有平安。

撒旦眾多方法的其中一項,就是促使聖徒產生內在疑慮和恐懼,並且促使外在的不和諧來搶奪聖徒的平安。他的目的是使我們驚慌懼怕,以致我們做出愚魯和破壞性的行動:

5:6 你們若謙卑在 神大能的手下,到了時候他必叫你們升高。5:7 謙卑就是將一切的憂慮卸給 神,因為他顧念你們。5:8 務要謹守、儆醒。你們的仇敵魔鬼,如同吼叫的獅子,遍地游行,尋找可吞吃的人。5:9 你們要抵擋他,信心堅定,因為知道你們在世上的弟兄姐妹,也在忍受同樣的苦難。5:10 這樣,那賜一切恩典、曾在基督裏召你們,得享他永遠榮耀的 神,等你們暫受苦難之後,必要親自復興、確認、堅固,和建立你們。(彼得前書5:6-10)

我不認為彼得在指示我們要將一切的憂慮交托給主後,即時談論撒旦只是巧合。撒旦在尋找心靈受困擾的人來威嚇他們,他的目的是要那些人在驚惶失措時落入他的魔掌。我們抵擋撒旦的方法是透過尋求和保存從神而來的平安,那平安源自認識到撒旦是戰敗者;並且認識神的旨意和應許是真確的,當我們信靠祂的時候,我們就安全了。

用平安的福音當作預備

在這節經文中,關於「預備」這個詞語的討論十分多。一般來說,這個詞語有兩個常用的理解和應用方法。一方面這詞可以指「準備好」去宣揚福音。若按此詮釋,平安就如一名跑手從起跑器所得到的初始推力。無疑,我們應該準備好和願意把福音傳給失喪的人(參彼得前書3:15)。保羅在這節也許是指要為傳福音作好準備。

然而,若將這字解釋作「準備就緒」就更切合他的主題。一名士兵絕不可丟掉他的鞋子,否則他必被打敗。耶穌基督的福音帶來平安,這平安讓基督的戰士準備就緒,使他能經受得起那場戰事。與神和睦相處給予基督徒部份軍備,乍聽起來是那樣奇怪,這軍備讓他在抵擋撒旦和他的黨羽的屬靈爭戰中站立得穩。

結語

我的基督徒朋友啊!我並不感受到今天的信徒經歷完全的平安,故此我們受撒旦猛烈的攻擊。在教會中有強烈的憂慮:父母為孩子們憂慮、家庭為經濟問題而憂慮、教會為他們的活動安排和其他無數的困難而憂慮;我們為罪惡、經濟與及國家和世界的前景而憂慮。這些憂慮都是對那掌管萬事萬物的神不敬,並且使我們在敬拜和爭戰中分心。

在我們研讀的經文和其他的經文,神給我們表明平安是祂在基督裡成就的,也是基督徒必須追求的。那麼,我們如何追求平安?我們如何能夠重新得到那失落的平安呢?

首先我們必須記住,平安是神供應給我們的;這平安是祂在十字架上成就的。我們必須恆常回到主耶穌的十字架和默想各各他所帶來的果效。我們必須以締造和平作為優先和主導原則來規範我們的行為。我們要把焦點調校在神的屬性、神的主權和祂的旨意與計劃上。

我們的優先次序應是締造和平,並以此作為我們行為的指引。我們的焦點應放在神的屬性和神按祂的主權所定下的旨意和計劃。我們必須認識到,在逆境和苦難中祂賜下平安。我們是以神賜予其他恩賜的相同方式獲得平安--透過神的恩典和我們的信心得到這些禮物。

最後讓我們看看腓立比書4:4-9,這是保羅給予處理焦慮和經歷神的平安最重要的教導。讓我們一起來看:

4:4 你們要在主裏常常喜樂。我再說,你們要喜樂!4:5 讓眾人見到你們的溫柔。主已經近了!4:6 應當一無掛慮,凡事只要藉着禱告、祈求,和感謝,將你們所要的告訴 神。4:7 神所賜超人理解的平安,必在基督耶穌裏,保守你們的心懷意念。4:8 最後,弟兄姐妹們,凡是真實的、可敬的、公義的、純潔的、可愛的、值得表揚的、上好的,或是可稱讚的,這些事你們都要思念。4:9 你們在我身上所學習的、所領受的、所聽見的、所看見的,這些事你們都要去行。平安的 神就必與你們同在。(腓立比書 4:4-9)

首先,平安來自在神裡的喜悅。祂是我們的救贖、祂是我們的保障、祂是我們的勝利、祂是我們的喜樂。平安在祂裡面安歇和歡樂(第4節)。其次,平安來自追求和在主內的弟兄姊妹合一與和諧,滿有恩典地包容相互之間的弱點(第5節,另參以弗所書4:17-32)。我們為我們所需用的向神祈求,並且相信祂會成就,我們透過禱告得著平安(第6-7節)。當我們約束我們的心懷意念,拒絕那些不合真理與公義的心思意念,我們得著平安(第8節)。當我們思考真理、實踐真理,我們得著平安(第9節)。

聖經向所有人說話,並應許那些在心內有困擾的人在基督裡的平安。假如你並未接受耶穌基督為主,以下是主自己發出的邀請:

11:28 凡勞苦擔重擔的人,可以到我這裏來,我就使你們得安息。11:29 你們當負我的軛,學習我心裏的柔和謙卑,這樣,你們的心就必得享安息。 (馬太福音 11:28-29).

祂常對困苦疲乏的人、背負罪的重擔的人和充滿恐懼的人說:「平平安安地去吧。」

平安唯獨從神而來。平安從耶穌基督而來,祂使神和人復和,祂使敵對的人和平相處;祂賜給人內在的平安,就是在撒旦攻擊我們的時候,祂幫助我們站立得穩。願你在祂裡面能夠找到平安,透過相信耶穌基督赦免你的罪,也因為祂公義的緣故我們能夠與神相交。

16:20 平安的 神快要將撒但踐踏在你們腳下。願我主耶穌的恩常和你們同在。(羅馬書 16:20)

6:24 願耶和華賜福給你,保護你。6:25 願耶和華使他的臉光照你,賜恩給你。(民數記 6:24-26)

6:23 願平安、愛、信,從父 神和主耶穌基督,歸與弟兄姐妹們。 (以弗所書 6:23)

我不情願在結束前不提出警告。平安並非我們信心的基礎;聖經裡所說的平安,建基於我們對神的信。我常常聽到人們以「我感到平安」來為他們的決定、態度和行為作出辯護。舊約和新約的經文都為假平安警告我們那是具破壞性和致命的。我們應以神的屬性和神的話語為我們平安的基礎,平安的根源必須源於神,並且合乎公義與真理。內在平安的感覺並不能證明我們是對的,但處於正確與公義中是平安的基礎。讓我們透過信靠順服神來尋求平安。

譯者註:除特別標示的地方,中文經文採用NET(中文版)

Translated by: Jenny Pao 鮑婉玲譯


1另參申命記31:1-8.

2要留意當神賜基甸「平安」好與米甸人爭戰,神實際上是使米甸人驚慌和顫抖的心。神是以色列人平安的來源,也是以色列的敵人恐懼的來源。比較出埃及記15:13-18。

3 另參耶利米書 8:11; 以西結書 13:10, 16

4另參路加福音 24:36-40.

5希伯來書的作者勸勉他的讀者要追求和平:「你們要追求與眾人和睦,並要追求聖潔;非聖潔沒有人能見主。」(希伯來書12:14)

6 另參加拉太書5:22.

Related Topics: Spiritual Life

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